The moment which best defines Arsenal, right now, is the Invincibles clinching the Premier League at White Hart Lane on April 25, 2004. This may seem like an odd choice at first glance, since Arsenal have been decidedly non-invincible since the end of that year, and because there are perhaps more "historic" moments from which to choose. However, two points about that day and that season lead to where Arsenal is now.
One is that Spurs team came back to earn a 2-2 draw that day due to some defensive frailty on the part of the Gunners which would become more and more noticeable in future seasons, despite the attacking prowess that Arsenal have always had since then.
The other is that since that day, and since the close of the 2003-04 season, that moment has become the high-water mark against which almost every popular conception of Arsenal is compared; that team, while justifiably lionized, has set the bar incredibly high, and in many ways their success forms the cosmic background against which all of the "Arsenal in Crisis" talk shines today.
"Shaw, Williams, prepared to venture down the left. There's a good ball in for Tony Morley. Oh, it must be and it is! It's Peter Withe!"
The immortal line spoken by Brian Moore is strung across a banner along the North Stand of Villa Park. The exclamation rings through Aston Villa supporters' heads, even those too young to have heard it spoken. It represents the ultimate glory -- the winning of the European Cup. Since that time, Villa's glories have faded, having only won the League Cup twice and the Intertoto Cup (does anyone even remember what that is?) once. It might be seen as clinging to the past, the frequent use of that line and those heroes, but with the recent upheavals experienced by the Villa, it's often good to remember that the current times are just a blip in the long history of the club.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the arrival of Rinus Michels has proved to be the defining moment in FC Barcelona's history. The Dutch coach had worked miracles at Ajax and – despite guiding the club to their first European Cup – moved to Catalunya in the summer of 1971. While one could argue that he didn’t have the immediate impact that Culés were hoping for, in 1974, three years into his reign, Michels brought the Blaugrana their first La Liga title in almost 15 years.
However, that success was merely the tip of the iceberg. Michels was the man who introduced the great Johan Cruyff to Barcelona, and more than that, he devised a whole new way to play the game – Total Football. From Johan Cruyff to Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova via Frank Rijkaard; Michels may be gone, but his ideals live on and continue to define FC Barcelona.
I know my readers will get angry at hearing this. And yeah, I'm sure I could come up with something more positive if I had the time and were sober. But quite honestly, right now, the single moment that defines FC Bayern Munich in my mind is Didier Drogba planting a header into the top corner of our goal, erasing our well-earned 1-0 lead in the Champions League Final, and snatching away the trophy that was rightfully ours. Right on our own pitch.
That's the thorn in our side, the splinter in our eye, the Great Disturbance in the Force, and any other metaphor you want to use for a wound that we can't get past. Considering the level of talent on our roster, the amount of discipline and unselfishness every player demonstrated last year, the obstacles that we had to overcome, and the fact that we were within 3 minutes from reaching the pinnacle of the world of sport in front of a hometown crowd?
That trophy was OURS. And Chelsea just grabbed it away from us. Bastian Schweinsteiger says he's over it and the whole thing is forgotten; I don't believe that for a second. I bet he hasn't gone a single night without thinking about it since it happened. The hurt won't be erased, the karmic scales won't be balanced, until we hoist the Champions League trophy and bring it back to Munich.
Which is to say, for 243 more days.
In typical Bolton Wanderers fashion, the Trotters did everything in their power to try to lose a major game. It was 1995 and Bolton faced off against Reading in the old Division One playoff final. The men in white went down a goal in the fourth minute before Reading doubled their lead on 12 minutes. Keith Branagan saved a penalty before half time and that's when the tide turned for Bolton. Owen Coyle pulled one back in the 75th minute and Fabian de Freitas levelled it in the 86th minutes and took the final into extra time.
The Trotters scored two more times to reach the Premier League for the first time. The infamous Reading match is quintessential Bolton thanks to the team's ability to constantly find themselves in a whole that they've dug. Yet, somehow, Bolton Wanderers manage to set it right thanks to a never-say-die attitude and an ability to punch above their weight.
It's tempting, of course, to find something else to write about. Perhaps the FA Cup final in '94, where Chelsea were demolished by Manchester United? It has a certain symbolism, an authenticity to it. Or Roberto di Matteo's stunner in 1997? No Blues fan would ever forget that. How about the Jespar Gronkjaer's goal against Liverpool, which, rumour has it, led to the Roman Abramovich era at Stamford Bridge.
Those would all be valid answers, but they also all feel like running away from something. That something lies in three snapshots. John Terry on the ground in Moscow, tears streaming down his face in the rain. Bastian Schweinsteiger repeating Terry's trick a few years later, hitting hit spot kick off left-hand post. And Didier Drogba wheeling away in joy, having sent Manuel Neuer the wrong way with the decisive kick of a penalty shootout.
If anything defined Chelsea, it was the quest -- a seemingly all-consuming one -- to win the UEFA Champions League. Now the curse is lifted. The Blues are free. There's nothing left to win, no new mountain to be climbed. For the first time in history, Chelsea are at the summit of the game. If that's not club-defining, I don't know what is.
There's plenty of teams in Major League Soccer that can probably claim a defining moment that brought joy to the fans of the team. The Colorado Rapids are not one of those teams. Sure, they won the 2010 MLS Cup in a run of luck only rivaled by RSL in 2009, but looking at the full history of the club will quickly tell you that their cup win was a blip on an otherwise sorry radar.
With that in mind, I think I would have to pick the 1997 MLS Cup loss to DC United as the defining moment of Rapids history, as it foreshadowed the 'close but no cigar' future of the Rapids quite well. 1999 brought the Rapids the best chance at a trophy for a decade, and they became the first and only MLS team in history to lose to a lower league team in the Open Cup final.
In 2004-2005, they made the playoffs twice in a row and crushed Dallas to make the second round, only to lose in sorry games both times with a chance at the cup final on the line. Even 2011, which was supposed to be the season that they showed they were the real deal, ended up in a front office gutting when it was revealed they were really just a decent starting XI with no depth behind them. Hard to define this team with anything resembling actual success, they're just quite good at getting pretty darn close and then faltering when it's in their grasp.
For FC Dallas, the top moment has to be the 3-0 2010 Western Conference Final win over Los Angeles. The win sent FCD to their first ever MLS Cup Final and was vindication for David Ferreira, Schellas Hyndman and everyone who doubted Dallas. The moment was the best in FC Dallas history and defines what the club is trying to build, an aesthetically pleasing team that isn’t afraid to play at the toughest venues in MLS.
The rain was pouring down relentlessly, as if the soccer gods were angry that the Americans were able to finish the first season of a new league that appeared sustainable and that would eventually lore away top talents from the giants of Europe and South America. More than 90 minutes had expired when Eddie Pope rose to score a goal and win the 1996 MLS Cup for D.C. United. Its the reason United is the first and only dynasty in MLS, and the reason that the team wears the word "Tradition" on its jerseys. Unfortunately its also the reason why United fans expect the team to return to greatness every year. They know what success feels like, and they can't wait to feel it again.
November 12th, 2006. MLS Cup 2006. After 120 minutes of soccer and nine penalty attempts, Jay Heaps of the New England Revolution stepped up for a must-make penalty against Dynamo goalkeeper Pat Onstad. Heaps tried to go low and to the left, but Onstad read it perfectly, stone walling Heaps as he collected the ball against his midsection. Onstad jumped to his feet and raced towards the Dynamo supporters, both hands in the air, the ball palmed in one. He executed a perfect knee slide towards the fans before collapsing as his teammates piled on top of him in celebration. Winning the MLS Cup in your first season in a new city is special. Winning the MLS Cup in your first season in the home stadium of your biggest rival is even better. It set the tone for the Dynamo franchise and is a moment no fan will ever forget.
It my be only 14 months ago, but opening of Juventus Stadium was a sign of a new era for Italy's Old Lady. When President Andrea Agnelli said those three words "Benvenuti a casa," you really got a feeling that it was really home. Juventus were coming off two consecutive seventh-place finishes in Serie A, but that all changed once the stadio was opened. That night, Sept. 8, 2011, was the dawn of a new beginning for Juventus. Club idols young and old — from Giampiero Boniperti to Alessandro Del Piero, from Dino Zoff to Gigi Buffon — were all there. It showed that while Juventus is beginning with something new, the club is still built on so much of its past. It is Juve, storia di un grande amore.
With Leeds United's rich history over the years it's extremely difficult to put my finger on defining moment for the club. We've seen it all in recent decades from dominating in the 70's under Don Revie to the Championship victory in 1992. The Champions League years around the millennium were the pinnacle for any football fan from Leeds, as we went around Europe picking up results against all odds. We've also had our fair share of very low low's sinking to League One and being deducted 15 points before nearly going out of business. But if I had to answer from the heart I'd say Leeds United were defined just a few years ago while playing in the depths of League One.
Our promotion to the Championship in 2010 wasn't easy and we made hard work of it but it was worth every second. For Leeds fans it was redemption and a lease of life to take us to the second tier. We might not return to the Premier League any time soon but that victory was the moment Leeds could start again. We're not liked by many other clubs but the rest of the Premier League know it would be a better place with Leeds United in it.
For many, the club's identity over the past two decades remains inextricably tied to the shadow cast by Hillsborough—the ninety-six supporters who died in England's worst ever sporting disaster; the fight for truth that took twenty-three years and only recently saw the victims finally and fully vindicated; and the fight for justice that continues.
For many, the club's identity is defined as much by two decades of futility in the league as by any historical success—by parasitic owners who bled the club; by incompetent senior management who meddled in football decisions; and by an inability to compete financially at the very highest levels in the Premier League era, first with Manchester United and now with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City.
No club has a fanbase capable of being quite so high one week and quite so low the next as Liverpool. To win with so much giddy excitement while being entirely convinced that the next week will bring nothing but soul-crushing misery—and to then embrace that misery in dramatic, bipolar fashion while still believing deep down that a return to the titles and trophies of the club's glory years, to a time when Liverpool was not only England's greatest club but one of the world's greatest, is both inevitable and imminent.
In the end there's no moment that can properly define Liverpool because Liverpool—the modern Liverpool; the Liverpool that competes from week to week while dragging behind it both the joy and pain of its storied history—is a neurotic mess of extremes where rabid optimism and maudlin pessimism attempt an uneasy coexistence. But it is always, at its core, a hopeful mess.
It's the sort of club that believes that even being down three-nil against a favoured opponent in the Champions League final doesn't mean the match is lost. And so every once in a while it turns out that hope is warranted. As was the case in 2005 when at the half the supporters who had traveled to Istanbul to watch Liverpool face AC Milan sang the club's anthem so loud it could be heard in the dressing rooms beneath the stadium and the squad embarked on the greatest comeback ever seen in a Champions League final.
I select the 2012 MLS home opener at the Olympic Stadium, a 1-1 tie against the Chicago Fire. The historical moment of having MLS-caliber soccer in Montreal with a record crowd of 58,912, beating the previous by around 500 fans by the Montreal Manic in 1981. Funny coincidence (or is it) that back then, the Manic were playing the Chicago Sting in the NASL.
The game did not fully have an event like ambiance even though Montrealers are known for forming an event-driven crowd. Sitting in the stands and looking at the pitch as the game went on, it felt surreal to see the highest caliber of professional north-american soccer back in Montreal. The Olympic Stadium could not be a worst venue for its big wide spaces, horrible for sound to travel and with one ugly synthetic carpet that was used to play on.
Even with that going against the Olympic Stadium (historical landmark of shame to Montreal) , the people were there to see their Montreal Impact. What better scenario to see the the first-ever MLS captain of the team, Davy Arnaud, score the club's first ever goal in MLS at home.
It was a day for the history books, a day for memories, a day for trivia buffs.
For me, the moment that defines Newcastle is Cheik Tiote's goal against Arsenal that brought them all the back from 0-4 to 4-4. Yes, it was incredible, it was astonishing, and yes, it was sensational. It was also a perfect volley off the foot of a man who had never before scored a Premier League goal and still hasn't since.
Yes, it was the biggest comeback in Premier League history. But none of those things define Newcastle. What impresses me most about this moment is the crowd. Take a look at the video again, even if you're tired of seeing it on every promotional video made since it happened:
The place is packed. Every single person in St James' Park had every right to leave. They were down 4-0 at home. Geordie folk hero Andy Carroll had been sold just 5 days prior. Beloved manager Chris Hughton was unceremoniously sacked just 2 months prior to that. And of course, the reason Hughton was so beloved is that he led the team back to the top flight after being relegated the season before.
The moment that Robin Van Persie bagged his second goal and Arsenal's fourth (the 27th minute, if you're keeping track) is not the lowest point Newcastle has ever seen, but it sure felt like it. And instead of packing it in and leaving, the Geordies stuck around. I like to think that the football gods looked down on St James' Park that day, saw that a group of about 50,000 people needed some hope, and gave it to them.
And they deserved it. The Newcastle fanbase will always be rabid and expectant of great things, but more importantly, they'll always be loyal and passionate. That night the Toon Army refused to leave, and they were rewarded for their faithfulness with one of the most memorable goals of the last several years. .
The defining moment of the Portland Timbers still has to be the first home game at the newly renovated Jeld-Wen Field on April 14th, 2011. Everything about it was just so emblematic of Portland. From the way the Timbers Army created the loudest voice among MLS supporters groups, to the energy and work ethic of the team on the field. Even the rain helped to signify what kind of team this was going to be. While the game would eventually go on to be the Portland Timbers first ever MLS win by a score of 4-2, it kicked off what I think will go down in the annals of Portland Timbers, Portland and MLS history as one of the pivotal moments for the team
It's a cold April night with Reading drawing 0-0 with Nottingham Forest when news filters through that West Ham have drawn at Bristol City. Suddenly the Madejski Stadium gets a little louder as the fans realise that this could be the night when the unthinkable happens, Reading could win promotion back to the Premier League.
After the pain of relegation four years earlier and the end of the Steve Coppell era, suddenly Reading once again are on the verge of something special. Fans, many of whom 30 years ago had stood on the Tilehurst End at Reading's rusting Elm Park Stadium watching fourth tier football suddenly begin to sing 'One goal and we're going up!'.
With ten minutes left on the clock, Ian Harte, a left back who after his Leeds glory days had sunk as far down as Carlisle before being snapped up for £50,000 a year previously, floats in a free-kick that causes chaos in the Forest box. With fans craning their necks to see through the scramble, Mikele Leigertwood who had also been dumped by QPR on their assent to the Premier League sticks out his leg and diverts the ball goal ward.
Then there's that split second of silence before we all go crazy, Reading have scored and it's actually happening, we are Premier League. It was a team goal, nothing special or flashy but one created and finished by men who had a point to prove for a club that time and time again has turned one team's junk into pure gold. Reading have never been fashionable club but we've always been a team and long may that continue.
Hope and heartache, that's Roma - so much so we should probably change the name of the site. A club which often dances with success, but is only afforded a kiss on the cheek at the end of the night: the capital city, yet only 3 scudetti (league titles), while being tied for most Coppa Italia titles (nine) with Juventus, a club which won a couple of other things too. A befitting trophy cabinet, in other words - like dining exclusively on hors d'oeuvres.
Which, of course, makes the night Roma lost the European Cup (old school for Champions League) at home -- their only European Cup final -- on penalties in 1984 thedefining moment of the club. Rare for a club to make the grandest stage when it's being held in their back yard, given the finals are rotated to hopefully find a neutral venue; unique until Bayern last year in that they suffered the cruelest of fates at the highest level through the spot kick lotto at home. Vintage Roma: ever to be never quite so close.
In 2009 when the Seattle Sounders were a mere, almost certainly to fail expansion team, they made a run in the US Open Cup and won it. Their journey involved wins over Salt Lake, Colorado, lower division Timbers in Portland, Kansas Ciy, Houston and finally United in DC.
The team returned home from the capitol at about 3 AM. They were greeted by hundreds of fans. In those six wins the Sounders declared that not only would they be a different kind of expansion team, but they would treat this minor tournament as if it should be desired by every team. Their latter consistent success in the Open Cup has enabled them to use the CONCACAF Champions League as a recruiting tool, get young players developmental time and there is of course the joy of actually winning silverware.
When I was asked to try and sum up Sunderland AFC in a nutshell, neatly defined by a singular event, I found myself at something of a loss. When a football club is ingrained into your life, and so much of yourself invested in it, sooner or later all the moments - the highs and the lows, the joy and the despair – just all blend into one to simply become your club.
If I had to pick just one, though, it would have to be the FA Cup Semi Final in 2004 against Millwall. With a final against Champions League opposition guaranteed, this match essentially became a shoot-out for UEFA Cup qualification between two second-tier teams. Sunderland were the favourites, and expectations were high. They lost. Grasping defeat from the jaws of victory, endearing triers who tend to end up as heartbroken nearly-men with so much promise yet never seeming to get the big moments quite right. As close to Sunderland AFC in a nutshell as you're ever likely to find.
What moment can define such a historically inept team? Well, that would have to be the one time it almost went right. The 2009 season ended with Toronto FC needing merely a point from their last game to make the playoffs for the first time in their erratic 3 year history. that game was away to the New York Red Bulls, only the worst team in the league aat the time. Never in the game, they lost 5-0.
5-0! Everything on the line and they came up with what is still the worst result in team history.
After that game, all the barely controlled dysfunction of their first 3 years of existence came rushing to the forefront with coach Chris Cummins giving a very disgruntled exit interview, amidst talk of bad apples in the dressing room and front office interference. It also sent the club off on its still continuing panicky downward spiral that has been the last 3 years. A new coach and new direction every season, with squad guttings to match, ever decreasing point totals and no sign of finding equilibrium any time soon, never mind success.
Halfway through the team's existence, a potentially big step forward is comedically blown, perfectly encapsulating what was wrong with the first 3 years, and setting the stage for the shambles that was the next 3 years. That's TFC.
Very few clubs have a history like that of Tottenham Hotspur, which is filled with a lot of glory, but a lot more heartbreak. If I put this up to my co-writers, they would have nominated Ricky Villa's FA Cup winner, Peter Crouch's goal to seal Champions League football or Bill Nicholson's double-winning campaign. Unfortunately, none of those moments in history define what Spurs are best known for, which is choking in the most hilarious way possible.
That's why Tottenham's loss to West Ham United on the final day of the 2005-06 season is probably the defining moment for the club at this point in time. Heading into the game, Tottenham were in 4th place in the Premier League. With a win, they would have secured Champions League football and finished above Arsenal. Instead, the team was ravaged by a food poisoning outbreak before the match. Robbie Keane, Michael Carrick and others played the match sick, and the team looked lethargic as West Ham won 2-1 and Tottenham dropped to fifth place.
Tottenham might as well rename themselves FC Schadenfreude.
The United States entered the 2002 World Cup as heavy underdogs. They were coming off of a dead last place finish in 1998 and while they had made some strides, including a win over Mexico in World Cup qualifying the year before, they were still "those bloody Americans who don't even call it football". A win over Portugal in the tournament opener helped that, but that was a blip. They still couldn't even claim to be their region.
All of that changed on June 17, 2002. The U.S. defeated Mexico, 2-0, behind goals from Brian McBride and Landon Donovan in the World Cup round of 16, giving them eternal bragging rights over their rivals and elevating themselves to top dogs in the region. More than anything, with a trip to the World Cup quarterfinals booked, the U.S. had completed its transformation from international soccer also-ran to a legitimate player in the world's game.
The defining moment of Vancouver Whitecaps history? Perhaps the four-in-a-row CSL champions of 1988 to 1991; for young fans maybe the epic 2008 USL First Division final victory over the Puerto Rico Islanders. Many will nominate winning Soccer Bowl '79, with its parade down the streets of downtown Vancouver.
But the single defining moment is from earlier that season. Diminutive winger "Wee" Willie Johnston, in exile from Britain after a drug offense, was having a whale of a season and a magnificent game against the San Jose Earthquakes. With time running down in the second half, Johnston (already with an assist) helped Vancouver win a corner and headed down to take the kick. While he did so, a fan in Whitecaps colours sportingly offered Johnston a swig from his beer bottle. "Wee" Willie, being a perfect Whitecap at heart, naturally took a swig. Then he took the corner; a looping ball that got over the Earthquakes defense and fell to fullback Peter Daniel for a dramatic late winner and Daniel's only goal as a Whitecap.
You couldn't ask for anything more Vancouver than that.
For me, the moment that defines Wigan Athletic always goes back to the last day of the 2005 Championship season, when we need to beat Reading to gain promotion to the Premier League. No one dared dream we could do it, but ten years after a madman (Dave Whelan) said we could, we were on the verge of getting back to the top flight. So a fully packed JJB Stadium watched on, as eleven men in blue and white marched onto the pitch in front of a electrified crowd. We were together united in our hope for glory in the promised land.