It feels like it is mentioned every year around this time, but the most recent edition of the MLS season was one of the league's best.
Perhaps we are simply prisoners of the moment to feel this way year after year, but maybe the annual accolades being thrown in the direction of the MLS league office in New York displays a bigger picture.
Major League Soccer remains a teenager in the grand scheme of things, completing just its 17th season in 2012. The league faces many challenges on a daily basis that could derail the entire operation and send American soccer into a downward spiral circa 1984 when the NASL folded.
But the fact that MLS has garnered so much attention while capturing the hearts, and eyeballs, of many is a testament to the amount of care exhibited by Commissioner Don Garber and the rest of the league's executives.
Part of what makes a sports league so enthralling are the storylines that captivate spectators from one week to the next, bringing us back for more.
The 2012 MLS season had no shortage of memorable stories, but here are the 10 most noteworthy:
10. Soccer-specific stadiums become even more prevalent
Coming into the season, 13 of the league's 19 teams competed in soccer-specific stadiums. That number increased by season's end after the expansion Montreal Impact moved in to the renovated Saputo Stadium and the Houston Dynamo opened the doors to BBVA Compass Stadium. The San Jose Earthquakes will add to that total after the club broke ground on its new soccer stadium, which is slated to open in 2014. What was once a race to see which clubs can open soccer-specific stadiums quickest has become a race to see which club can avoid becoming the last.
9. Red Bulls flounder again
The disappointment continues for one of the league's most high-profile franchises. Red Bull New York crashed out of the postseason despite hosting D.C. United in the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal, leaving supporters with a sour but familiar taste in their mouths. New York is one of just three clubs (along with the New England Revolution and FC Dallas) still operating from MLS's inaugural season without an MLS Cup title. The club has made one appearance in the title match, but with the substantial investment made in player personnel, it's safe to say that expectations have not been met. Not even close.
8. Timbers clinch Cascadia Cup
The Portland Timbers did not have a great deal to celebrate this term, but the club picked up its first piece of silverware since joining MLS in 2011. Portland pipped local rivals Seattle Sounders FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC for the Cascadia Cup, awarded to the best team in the Pacific Northwest. The Timbers went 3-1-2 against Seattle in Vancouver this season, taking 11 points from those six games to finish two points ahead of the Sounders in the Cascadia Cup table. The triumph is all the more impressive given Portland's eighth-place finish in the Western Conference this term.
7. Impact nearly debut with playoff appearance
The Montreal Impact became the 19th MLS franchise with great pomp and circumstance, but a playoff appearance would have been the icing on the cake. The Impact assembled a team of great individual talent with the likes of Marco Di Vaio, Patrice Bernier and Davy Arnaud while adding the high-profile signing of Alessandro Nesta midseason, but it did not always equal a strong showing on the pitch. Montreal had the fourth-worst defense during the regular season and fell 11 points shy of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but the club's debut season in the league will serve as a stepping-stone with the indication that it is not far away from making it to the dance.