Voices: Sam Jones

Wildest and wackiest moments from the 2023 MLS season

Xande Silva - spiderman mask

You don’t need further proof that this league exists on a different plane from the rest of the world. But we’re going to offer it to you anyway. It’s that time of year. The time of year where we all come together to ask and answer a simple question: How can you not be romantic about MLS?


We’ll start with a very good boy and go from there. Cool? Cool.

Read the game really well here, great lateral movement, got that dog in him, etc. etc. it all writes itself.

St. Louis unveil a game-breaking tactic

It all began, like most things do, with friendship.

In St. Louis CITY SC’s first-ever MLS match, former Austin FC player Jared Stroud convinced ex-teammate Kipp Keller to deliver a game-tying goal on a platter by maybe possibly calling for the pass. João Klauss scored moments later to give St. Louis their first MLS win.

“Kipp’s a good friend of mine,” Stroud told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch afterward. “Maybe he recognized me.”

Talking in the present tense there about that whole friendship thing seemed bold. But maybe that relationship survived considering the fact that St. Louis appeared to be good friends with the entire league for a few weeks.

This somehow happened multiple times. And then kept happening even after everyone kept remarking about how it kept happening. I don’t know what the lesson is, but I do think that mind control is the kind of tactic you could at least win the 2. Bundesliga with.

Eventually, teams figured out what colors St. Louis wear and stopped passing them the ball in front of their own goal, but not before CITY won their first five matches to claim the best expansion start in league history. They went on to finish first in the West before falling to Sporting KC in Round One of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.

An all-time upset

When Haiti’s Violette AC met Austin FC in the CCL Round of 16…

  • Austin had recently finished second in the West and made the 2022 Western Conference Final.
  • Violette had not played a game since May of 2022.
  • Violette had only played four official matches since January of 2021.
  • Violette could not play at their home stadium in Haiti and were forced to host their home leg in a stadium in the Dominican Republic with a big, Cloodish tree at one end.

They went up 1-0 early thanks to a header from Miche-Naider Chéry and then scored pretty much the exact same goal later in the half. Important side note here, Chery’s brace caught the attention of the USL Championship’s Oakland Roots SC and he’ll be playing stateside in 2024. The brace also caught Austin’s full attention. Needing to salvage a series quickly squirming out of their control, they buckled down and fought their way b--OH MAN LOOK AT THE BIG TREE I FEEL THE SUDDEN URGE TO KICK SOMETHING AT IT.

Ok, so, they didn’t quite salvage that one. But Austin still had a chance at redemption. The return leg in Austin set up nicely for a comeback. Violette had difficulty getting their players the paperwork necessary to make the trip to Texas. They were forced to make emergency signings before the game and showed up to Q2 Stadium with a 3-0 aggregate lead and just 15 eligible players.

Austin piled on 35 shots and scored twice, but couldn’t find an equalizer despite two of those emergency signings for Violette getting into the game. After 10 (!!) minutes of stoppage time, Violette finally got to celebrate one of the most remarkable wins… ever?

Heroism comes in many different forms

Like this guy.

Anyway, this was mostly an excuse to bring back the video of a young Alex Muyl dancing with a young Timothee Chalamet. (I’m not kidding.)


LAFC decided to heavily rotate their lineup for a US Open Cup El Trafico. The Galaxy decided to give the ball to Riqui Puig and see what happened.

Puig merc’d some kids, celebrated in Messi-anic style and the Galaxy advanced. That seemed to be that until Giorgio Chiellini shared his thoughts on the matter during Puig’s post-match interview.

This would have been wild if it had been any two key players for either team, but it just so happened to be a moment between former Barcelona starlet Riqui Puig and former World XI-caliber center back Giorgio Chiellini. It felt a bit surreal. As did…


That’s a lot of people.

This matchup seemed set to break the record at the start of the season but a historic winter storm postponed the game to July 4. Both teams and their fans made the wait worth it.

That included Puig, who seemed to have a little extra juice in the first match since Chiellini’s comment.

By God, that’s Dénis Bouanga’s music!!

Only one player in LA outperformed Puig this year. Dénis Bouanga scored 38 times across all competitions in 2023. Maybe the most impressive of those 38 came on March 25 against FC Dallas.

Fresh off a 13-hour flight and less than 48 hours removed from scoring the winner for Gabon against Sudan in an African Cup of Nations qualifier, Bouanga arrived to LAX at 5:30 pm PT. He made it to BMO Stadium about an hour later. At 6:45 pm PT, LAFC tweeted out their lineup. It did not include Bouanga. At 7:07 p.m. PT, that account issued a retraction: “Correction: Dénis Bouanga is available off the bench.” 65 minutes into the match, Bouanga entered the game. 19 minutes later…

Can I offer you an egg or potato in this trying time?

Ok, a personal favorite of mine. Former Chicago Fire FC manager Ezra Hendrickson had a unique explanation of how he wanted his team to respond to adversity. In life, you’re either an egg or you’re a potato.

Chicago dismissed Hendrickson a few weeks afterward and missed the playoffs for the sixth straight year. Potatoes.


One more personal favorite. I really enjoyed the (slightly PG-13, sorry editors) saga of an Orlando fan named Dave (probably). We met Dave early in the year when he responded to Orlando’s struggles by asking the important questions like…

  • “How many Avatars have they made?” (Two, with at least three more to come.)
  • “How many Back to the Futures have they made?” (Three, and a stage musical)
  • And “How many movies did they make with the blonde girl who went to college?” (Twice, one in undergrad and then one more time at Harvard Law School. She does not go to college in the second movie.)
  • “I mean, didn't Avatar?...There's another Avatar, isn't there?” (Three more.)

Dave popped up a few more times this season. I’m not sure he ever reached the heights of our first encounter though. Fortunately for him, Orlando got it together, stopped replaying the same movie and finished with the second-highest point total in MLS. It seems likely he had a major effect on this development, but we’ll never know for sure.

Alright, let’s stay in Florida. Deep breaths now…


Messi am becomes Florida, destroyer of subs

It’d be too easy to just say “Lionel Messi joins Inter Miami” and be done with it. What truly made this development special is the little details. Like the moment when Messi spent some of his first moments in Florida taking in the state’s cultural sites.

There are 881 Publix’s in Florida. They make up 63% of Publix’s in the U.S. Few places are as sacred.

Yeah, yeah, it might have been an ad. I don’t care. Watching the greatest player ever just exist in a Publix is one of the most surreal things we’ll ever see. Naturally, because Messi, his Sunshine State debut only got more remarkable.

That Pub Sub run and his debut goal kicked off a Leagues Cup run for Inter Miami that featured Messi going absolutely Super Saiyan for a month. That, of course, led us to an absurd Leagues Cup final…

A golazo, a not that, and a goalie war

That Leagues Cup final opened with this…

And nearly ended with this.

I’m not sure I can remember seeing a moment that felt like more it gave me a concussion. Then again, I’m like 93% sure this moment gave me an actual concussion. Probably not good for remembering things. There’s just so much here. It’s pure uncut MLS and it feels like one of those things you can only take part in a few times in your life without suffering dangerous consequences.

Anyway, once everyone recovered, this thing went to penalties. It made it all the way to each team’s goalkeepers going head-to-head with a trophy on the line. Drake Callender, take a bow.

One more

While some fans got to see Messi put on a show, others weren’t so lucky. The night before Inter Miami’s matchup with Atlanta United in front of a sold-out Mercedes-Benz Stadium crowd, rumors began to pop up that Messi may not make it to Atlanta. Then he posted this (from Miami) on his Instagram.

The reactions ranged from “What’s going on with that pizza?” to “Oh no, he’s not coming!” to “Seriously, what’s going on with that pizza?” Fortunately, my buddy Tyler took it on himself to do some investigative journalism.

Despite the disappointment of not seeing Messi and overall concern about his diet, the folks in Atlanta still enjoyed themselves the next day. The sold-out crowd watched the Five Stripes roll to a 5-2 win and a new take on Messi’s order.


Your friendly neighborhood Xande Silva

Let’s stay in Atlanta for a couple. Starting with Xande Silva pulling out a Spider-Man mask after scoring in a playoff game.

The celebration earned Silva a yellow card and, fortunately for him, helped power Atlanta to a win over Columbus. It would have been tough to live down the celebration/yellow/miss of the season combo he put together in this one.

Re: Maskless Celebrations

Sometimes you don’t need a prop to make a celebration memorable. Sometimes all you need is…[checking]...your teammate lying in a crumpled heap in the 18-yard box.

The Ballad of Matko Miljevic

Former CF Montréal midfielder Matko Miljevic had his contract terminated this season for “conduct detrimental to the league.” Reports claim that conduct came when Miljevic, playing under an assumed name in a Quebec indoor amateur soccer league, received a lifetime ban for punching another player in the face.

Somewhere, in whatever afterlife comes next, Shakespeare must have woken in a cold sweat as he realized he never got to tell the world’s greatest story.

The Ballad of Bernard Kamungo

Ok, fine, might have exaggerated a bit on that last one. Let’s talk about a truly great story.

FC Dallas’ Bernard Kamungo paid to tryout with FC Dallas’ reserve team a couple of years ago. He made the squad. He then played his way into a first-team contract. He then started against Lionel Messi and Inter Miami and scored this goal.

Somehow, we’re only skimming the surface here of the best story in MLS this season. Check out Charles Boehm’s profile for more.

Houston got good at soccer

Honestly, this might be the weirdest thing on here.

Bebelo returns

A subplot you might have forgotten about came at the beginning of the year when Minnesota United began the season without star No. 10 Bebelo Reynoso. He eventually returned and owned up to not handling the situation as well as he could have.

Things happen. What really made this wild though is that Reynoso returned from all that and immediately started putting up some of the best numbers in the league. In 16 starts, Reynoso averaged 0.66 goal contributions per 90 and finished second in the league in expected assists per 90. Some folks are just better at this than everyone else.

You can’t help but wonder what would have happened to Minnesota if he’d been around the whole year. Maybe they wouldn’t have parted ways with Adrian Heath a couple of games before the season ended? Weird year in Minnesota.

Don’t think. Do.

Who knows what he really wanted here. Maybe some popcorn. Maybe he wanted to edit a rough draft or two. Maybe he just wanted his moment of fame. That’s understandable. Because…

We all just wanna be a big rock star