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MLS Cup Goals: a history

All you ever wanted to know about scoring in MLS Cup

2012 MLS Cup - Houston Dynamo v Los Angeles Galaxy Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Most fans will agree that in soccer the goal is the ultimate highlight. 0-0 ties may be entertaining in their own way, but everyone who goes to a game expects to see scoring.

This is as true of the MLS Cup as it is of any other game. Our trusty research staff here at Dirty South Soccer have dug into the records to see what they could find. There’s some interesting stuff, as it turns out.

Total MLS Cup Goals

Over 22 MLS Cup games to date, there has been a total of 58 goals (not including penalty shootouts). That’s an average of 2.64 goals a game. To compare, the average over the 2018 regular season was 3.19 goals, but considering the higher quality of the teams involved and the enormity of the stakes, the Cup average is really quite high.

Most Goals by One Team

15 teams have played in MLS Cup. The LA Galaxy, who have appeared 9 times, unsurprisingly lead the pack with 12 goals. The best average is 3, held by the original San Jose Earthquakes, who scored 6 goals in 2 games. If you combine their total with the Houston Dynamo, who have been in 4 MLS Cups (including 2 immediately after relocation from San Jose) that drops to an average of 1.67. Over time the most consistent team would be DC United who averaged 2 goals a game over 5 MLS Cups.

Least Goals by One Team

Of those same 15 teams, one managed not to score in any MLS Cup game. That would be the Seattle Sounders who conspired to bore the world through 210 straight minutes of MLS Cups the past two years. And still conspired to win one of those games.

Most Goals in One Game

The highest scoring MLS Cup game was in 2003, when San Jose outlasted Chicago 4-2, a game that was also notable for a couple of other scoring marks. That was followed the next season by the second-highest scoring game, which saw DC beat the Kansas City Wizards 3-2.

Least Goals in One Game

Thanks to Seattle and their co-conspirators, Toronto FC, the 2016 MLS Cup played to 0-0 after extra time. It ended 5-4 in Seattle’s favor after penalties. Three games had just one goal: 2002 (LA over the New England Revolution), 2005 (LA over New England again) and 2011 (LA once more, this time over Houston).

Most Goals by One Player, Career

No prizes for guessing the answer to this one. It is of course Landon Donovan. Landycakes has 5 MLS Cup goals, scored over 4 games, although he appeared in 7, winning 6 of them (both also records). In the one MLS Cup he lost, he also failed to convert his attempt in a penalty shootout (against Real Salt Lake).

No one else has scored more than twice in MLS Cup. That’s been done 6 times, and those players are: Robbie Keane (LA), Dwayne de Rosario (San Jose and Houston), Taylor Twellman (New England), and Tony Sanneh, Jaime Moreno and Alecko Eskandarian (all of DC).

Most Goals by One Player, Single Game

There has never been a hat-trick in the MLS Cup. Two players have scored twice in one game. Those with a moderately mathematical bent will note that Donovan did that once (in the 4-2 game above) while playing for San Jose. The other is DC’s Alecko Eskandarian the following year.

MLS Cup Own Goals

This has happened three times. The first time was in 2003 when San Jose’s Chris Roner decided in the 54th minute that his team’s 3-1 lead was too much (he also did it only 3 minutes after entering the game as a substitute). The following year Kansas City’s Alex Zotinca scored in the 26th minute. That turned out to be the winning goal in that game, as Eskandarian had already scored both his goals by then. In fact, 4 of the 5 goals were in the first 26 minutes. The most recent own goal was FC DallasGeorge John, who also scored the winning goal, this time for the Colorado Rapids in a 2-1 victory in 2010. This one was probably far more heartbreaking though: it came in the 107th minute. My guess is you have never heard of any of those 3, for obvious reasons.

Scorers for Multiple Teams

Two players have scored for 2 teams in MLS Cup. Once again, Landon Donovan is on the list (San Jose and the LA Galaxy). He scored 3 with San Jose and 2 with the Galaxy The other is Dwayne de Rosario, who scored for San Jose and Houston (again, really the same team), scoring once for each.

Penalty Shootouts

4 MLS Cups have gone to penalties: 2006 (Houston v. the New England Revolution), 2009 (Real Salt Lake v. the Galaxy), 2013 (Sporting Kansas City v. Salt Lake) and 2016 (Seattle v. Toronto). RSL are the only MLS Cup qualifier never to see a result in open play. In those four games, 5 players have scored in open play and in the shootout: Houston’s Brian Ching and New England’s Taylor Twellman in 2006, RSL’s Robbie Findley and LA’s Mike Magee in 2009, and KC’s Aurelien Collin in 2013. Along with Landon Donovan, RSL’s Alvaro Saborio scored in open play but failed to covert in the shootout.