In front of a raucous partisan crowd at Pizza Hut Park just a four-hour drive from their home, Houston Dynamo claimed the 2006 MLS Cup Championship, topping the New England Revolution 4-3 on penalty kicks after the teams played to a 1-1 draw through regulation and extra time.
It was the first-ever MLS Cup Final to be decided on penalty kicks in the third year in which the shootout has been a possibility. Kelly Gray, Stuart Holden, Dwayne De Rosario and Brian Ching all converted from the penalty spot in the shootout, while Shalrie Joseph, Matt Reis and Taylor Twellman came through for the Revs.
Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis had his attempt saved, Pat Noonan's skimmed over the bar, and Jay Heaps' game-ending effort tamely skipped into the arms of Dynamo 'keeper Pat Onstad, setting off a celebration in the corner of the stadium where Dynamo fans had congregated.
The teams played 112 minutes of scoreless action until the Revolution finally broke through. Twellman notched his club's first goal in 346 minutes of MLS Cup play, taking the air out of the building and giving the Revs hope that the third time would be a charm for them after falling 1-0 in overtime in two previous title games.
But Ching brought the Pizza Hut Park-record crowd of 22,427 back to life just a minute after Twellman's goal to extend Dynamo's season into the penalty kick shootout. Ching headed home a cross from Brian Mullan to tie the match at 1. Dynamo's championship is their first in their first season in the league, though several of their players won titles with the team's previous incarnation, the San Jose Earthquakes. The Revs join the Los Angeles Galaxy as beaten finalists in their first three MLS Cup appearances.
Steve Ralston was back in the lineup for Revolution head coach Steve Nicol, who listed his lineup as a 4-4-2; regardless, the Revs resembled their standard 3-5-2, as captain Joe Franchino played more as a wingback. As expected Dynamo head coach pushed Adrian Serioux forward to fill in for the suspended Ricardo Clark, while Ryan Cochrane deputized in central defense.
Neither team seemed very assured in the opening minutes, though Dynamo were able to create an early scoring chance. De Rosario played Mullan through on the right, and the winger sent a low cross through the box, but it eluded Paul Dalglish. Davis was trailing the play and got to the ball but with a tight angle fired into the side netting. For several minutes thereafter, the pace was high but both teams were sloppy with possession, easily giving up the ball in the midfield.
Dynamo frequently looked to break with balls over the top, and Mullan had a golden opportunity to score in the 20th minute after Ching broke free on the left. Ching's centering pass found Mullan wide open in the middle of the box, but he skied his effort over the bar.
Midway through the first half, the Revs looked to be taking over as they pinned Dynamo deep in their own end. In the 18th minute, Serioux took down Joseph in the box, but referee Jair Marrufo deemed it a clean challenge. Eight minutes later, Andy Dorman played Franchino into space on the left, and the captain sent in an early cross that Taylor Twellman rose to meet 10 yards from goal. Onstad was there, though, to make the point-blank save, and the rebound skipped past Twellman and was cleared.
On balance in the first stanza, the Revs took hold of the game as they steadily settled in and play a possession game, and Dynamo seemed content to play the counter. De Rosario ran onto a ball from Serioux in the 39th minute, turned and fired from 25 yards to force a save out of Reis. The Revs made the first personnel move of the game early in the second half, bringing on Khano Smith for Franchino in the 53rd minute. A stronger attacking player than Franchino, Smith went to work immediately on the left against Mullan.
Just eight minutes later, New England again went to its bench, bringing on Clint Dempsey, who had missed the Revs' last two playoff matches with an ankle injury. After the Revs' moves, Dynamo countered by going to a 3-5-2, sliding Davis into central midfield and pushing Wade Barrett up on the left. Dempsey's first contribution came in the 63rd minute as he raced up the left wing and flighted a cross to the back post where Ralston headed the ball on frame but into Onstad's waiting arms.
The pace slowed considerably as the second stanza opened, and it took 21 minutes to see the first shot on goal of the half. Mullan blocked a clearance a few yards outside the box and passed to Ching, who was all by himself 15 yards from goal. The Hawaiian whiffed on his shot, and the ball went through to Davis, whose attempt was punched out by Reis.
Five minutes later, the Revs had a chance of their own, and again it was Dempsey in the mix. The Nacogdoches, Texas, native dove in vain to reach a low Ralston cross on the doorstep. Another opportunity fell to the Revs in the 86th minute as Twellman stooped to knock home a corner at the far post. Ching, though, stretched to kick the ball out for another corner. As the clocked ticked into extra time, both defenses remained resolute. The Revs blocked a Brad Davis shot after a free kick layoff and then Michael Parkhurst stamped out second half substitute Alejandro Moreno's run along the endline. Dynamo's defense did their part, too, Barrett clearing a Dempsey header off the line in minute 98.
Moreno provided a spark for Dynamo after coming on in the 81st minute, and he almost headed home a Davis corner in the 95th minute, but the ball went just wide. Chances were few and far between in extra time, but in one minute of the second extra session, both teams found the back of the net. The Revs were first to the table, ending their MLS Cup scoring drought at 346 minutes through Twellman. After bringing the ball up on the left, Smith snuck the ball between two Dynamo defenders for Twellman, who had acres of space and slipped a shot inside the far post. Less than a minute later, Dynamo struck back. Almost immediately following the kickoff after the Revolution goal, Ching, who had been held in check all afternoon by the Revs rearguard, snuck in to head home a deflected Mullan cross. Houston's strike matched the quickest response to a goal in MLS Cup history; the San Jose Earthquakes' answered a Chicago Fire goal off the restart in MLS Cup 2003.