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Best of MLS 2013: One boy, one wish, and one Game of the Year

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The past season has certainly been one of the most memorable years in Major League Soccer history, with drama on and off the field, spectacular races for the Conference titles, top individual performances and a magnificent MLS Cup to round it all off.

Over the next few days at PST we’re putting a nice bow on an incredible 2013 MLS season, to mark the end of a landmark year for soccer in North America.

Major League Soccer’s official website named New York Red Bulls’ 4-3 July victory over visiting Real Salt Lake as it’s game of the year, and for traditional dramatics, it’s difficult to argue. Shea Salinas’ and Alan Gordon’s stoppage time antics against the LA Galaxy at the end of June deserve some consideration, as does Portland’s effort against that same Galaxy squad in September. But in terms of the traditional measures -- drama, turns, highlights, goals, and league-wide significance -- it’s difficult to see beyond those 90 late July minutes at Red Bull Arena.

In time, however, the details of that game will fade. Diehard fans will remember, but ultimately, it will be just another professional soccer game. Had that game been less eventful -- had Álvaro Saborío not scored three times; had New York not found two late goals to nullify that performance --- nobody’s lives would be any different.

The Green Machine’s victory over Portland on May 2, however, transcended Major League Soccer. For one day, a match waged for an eight-year-old boy afflicted with cancer stole headlines across our soccer world, with Atticus Lane-Supre’s Make a Wish putting the 2013 MLS season in a larger context. As his club played the Timbers at JELD-WEN Field, we were reminded the significance of MLS’s 19 teams need not be constrained by their wins and losses.

Three thousand people showed up, packing the stadium’s north end to show Atticus what it meant to have the Timbers Army’s support. Portland captain Will Johnson played, as did Darlington Nagbe, Jack Jewsbury, Darlington Nagbe, Mikael Silvestre, and Futty Danso. For one day, Atticus’s wish made him the most important player in Portland soccer, his game-winning goal giving the Green Machine a 10-9 win over his home town club.

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Timbers supporters turned out for the midday match to cheer against their team, instead becoming Green Machine fans in support of Atticus Lane-Dupre.

“Usually kids just choose to go to Disneyland with their family or getting something,” Atticus explained. “I chose something that lots of people could do.”

That a child with that kind of humility -- a willingness to see beyond a day that was constructed solely to him to realize an opportunity for his entire soccer team -- epitomizes the significance of Monday’s game. Had it been part of a sick boy’s wish, the match would have still been special. That is was defined by Atticus’s want to see beyond himself, to incorporate his teammate, the Timbers, and the larger Portland soccer community, made this a moment capable of captivating a culture.

Major League Soccer had a number of great matches this year, from July’s seven-game monster at Red Bull Arena to the 10-round shootout that decided the title on Dec. 7 at JELD-WEN Field. Based on traditional standards, one of those games should win this honor.

But it’s rare that you have a moment like Atticus’s, one that can collapse your heart while putting something like Major League Soccer in perspective. Many still debate the progress, significance, and potential of our domestic league, but the whole venture becomes undeniably worthwhile if teams like Portland can make dreams like Atticus’s come true.

This was MLS’s Batkid moment. This was this year’s reminder that the league exists beyond the mundane, day-to-day details that fuel the diehards’ obsession. It was a sign this 17-year-old thing that nearly collapsed a decade ago matters to some in a way that those of us who remember 1996 can scarcely imagine.

Atticus’s game may not have been a Major League Soccer match, but it was a sign of what the league can do. Perhaps it wasn’t truly the best of the league’s season, but it was MLS’s best of 2013.