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Revs fall at final hurdle again
Frisco, Texas - For the first time the Revolution had a shot at a title against a team other than the Los Angeles Galaxy. This time the Houston Dynamo was the opponent and the Revs looked for a reversal of fortune after having lost in their two previous MLS Cup final appearances in 2005 and 2002, as well as the US Open Cup final in 2001 to the Galaxy in overtime. While the opponent changed, the end result was the same as the Revs lost in even more dramatic and tragic fashion. In 2001 and 2002 the Revs lost in golden goal overtime, in which the first team to score in the extra time wins without the opposition getting a chance to recover. By 2005 the rules had change with now the 30 minutes required to be played out in full; the Revs were given over 15 minutes to recover from the Galaxy’s 107th minute goal, but failed to do so. This year the rule change cost the Revs a title as their 113th minute strike that could have been the game winner, held up for less than a minute. This time the Revs would go on to lose on penalty kicks.
Houston took control of the match early as the Revs came out flat. Forward Taylor Twellman partly attributed this to stolen practice balls in a Dallas Morning News article. The match marked the debut of the new “adidas +Teamgeist Winner MLS Ball” that will be used by the MLS Cup winner, Houston, in all their home matches next season. Each side was given 15 of the balls to practice with the two days before the cup and both used them on Friday. Houston practiced again with the new ball on the day before the game, but the balls were noticeably absent from the Revs practice as they used the regular season match ball. "For some reason that I can't understand, MLS didn't give us a new ball," Twellman said to the Dallas Morning News. "We had a team practice and didn't play with the new ball the day before the game. That definitely played a factor. It took everybody 15 minutes to get used to it."
The Dynamo’s Brian Mullan had Houston’s best opportunity to open the scoring in the first half just 20 minutes into the match. Hawaiian Brian Ching got free of his marker down the left wing and sent in a cross to the wide-open Mullan, who somehow managed to send his shot high of the mark from relatively close range. In the play leading up to the chance, the Revs were denied a potential penalty kick as referee Jair Marrufo waved off the team’s protests when Shalrie Joseph was taken down in the box.
Soon after, the Revs started to look the better team and just six minutes after Houston’s chance, Twellman had a golden opportunity to put the Revs on top. New England captain Joe Franchino sent a quick cross into the 18 yard box to the Revs’ star striker, who headed it directly at Houston goalie Pat Onstad. Had his shot been just about anywhere else it would have been almost a certain goal.
Six minutes before half time, the Canadian international Dwayne De Rosario threatened to score with a long-range blast from 25 yards that forced Revs goalkeeper Matt Reis into a diving save.
Coming out from halftime with a clear determination to score, the Revs pinned back the Dynamo into their own end right from the start. A shot from forward Pat Noonan was deflected wide for a Revs’ corner kick. The ensuing corner from Steve Ralston fell to Jay Heaps, who saw his shot deflected wide as well, for yet another corner kick. Ralston’s second corner kick eluded the Revolution attackers, but appeared to strike Houston’s Eddie Robinson on the hand and again New England’s protests for a penalty kick were ignored.
Khano Smith and Clint Dempsey entered the match in the 2nd half for Joe Franchino and Andy Dorman in the 53rd and 62nd minutes, respectively, adding a spark to the Revolution’s attack. The Smith for Franchino substitution was no surprise as it had become commonplace throughout the regular season, although it may have come earlier than expected. Dempsey, the lone Revolution player to earn a spot on the league’s best eleven this season, would surely have started had he not been recovering from an ankle injury and it was no surprise seeing him enter either. Dorman, the only player on the Revs to tally double digits in assists this year, had started every league and play-off match this season, had never been subbed off as early as the 62nd minute this year in any match and had played every minute of the Revs’ playoff run so far. The Midnight Rider’s Man of the Year was having a solid game and did not appear to be injured, so head coach Steve Nicol’s opting to take him off so early came as a bit of a surprise.
Just seconds after coming on, Dempsey set up Ralston with a chance when he sent in a cross from the left flanks. Ralston, however, only managed to redirect his header at Onstad. Just three minutes later, Reis came up huge for the Revs denying a close range shot from Brad Davis, after Ching overran the cross, with a diving save.
Four minutes before the end of regulation time, the Revs had a golden chance when Heaps headed a quick Ralston free kick across the goalmouth to Twellman for what would have been an easy tap in. Somehow Ching managed to get back to clear the ball over the bar.
Clint Dempsey almost gave the Revs a lead 8 minutes into overtime when his header beat Onstad and was headed towards the back of the net. Houston defender Wade Barrett was there to clear it off the line and keep the match knotted at 0-0.
With penalties potentially just 8 minutes away, the Revs made a somewhat surprising substitution, bringing on Jeff Larentowicz for Daniel Hernandez. While Hernandez clearly looked exhausted and this was clearly the best direct replacement, it was a bit mystifying that Nicol would bring on someone not known for being a good penalty taker (although he did convert the winning PK against Rochester in the Open Cup earlier in the year) when he could have readjusted his line-up and inserted one of two excellent penalty takers in Jose Cancela or Jose Manuel Abundis.
The penalty kick question looked to have been irrelevant just a minute later as the Revs tallied their first goal in a Cup final in over 405 minutes dating back to a Wolde Harris strike in the 30th minute of the 2001 US Open Cup final. A great through ball from Smith after a long run from midfield got to Taylor Twellman, who slotted it past Onstad and into the far side of the net with his left foot. The exhausted Revs found the energy to run down to the Revolution’s supporter’s section to celebrate.
Celebrations were premature as within a minute Houston had leveled the score. As the Revs were still looking to catch their breath, Houston charged down the right flank and an uncontested Brian Mullan sent a cross into the Revolution 6 yard box that took a deflection off a Revolution defender before Ching rose up over Heaps to head it past a helpless Reis and into the back of the net.
“We scored a great goal but we weren’t mentally tough to see the game through,” Reis said. “There were about five minutes left and it’s the old adage that, right when you score, that’s the most vulnerable time.”
The match headed to penalty kicks. This was the third time the Revs had faced a shootout this season and having won the previous two, they had to feel fairly confident going into this one. The first five penalties were all converted as Kelly Gray, Dwayne De Rosario and Stuart Holden converted for Houston, while Shalrie Joseph and Matt Reis scored for the Revs. Pat Noonan then put the Revs in a hole when his shot went just high, but the Revs looked to have recovered when Reis saved Brad Davis’ attempt. Taylor Twellman than tied the scored at 3 by beating Onstad with his attempt. Brian Ching then scored on the Dynamo’s 5th attempt. Massachusetts native Jay Heaps stepped up to take the Revs 5th, needing to score to send the shootout into extra rounds, but saw his soft shot easily saved by Onstad to give Houston the Championship in their first year in the league after being relocated from San Jose.
The Revolution’s coaching staff was forced to readjust their penalty takers going into the shootout due to injuries, according to Head Coach Steve Nicol. “Ralston's groin was a problem,” he said. “Dempsey's ankle was a problem so we had to rethink them.” Nicol was devastated by the loss. “I can't tell you how bad it feels,” he said after the match.
Revolution Notes: Playmaker Jose Cancela, left unprotected by the Revs in the expansion draft, was selected by Toronto FC. In his 84 games for the Revs, Cancela had tallied 6 goals and 27 assists and had become a fan favorite for his play and attitude off the field when his playing time lessened…Clint Dempsey, who has openly expressed his desire to ply his trade in Europe, is being linked to a bid worth about $3.77 million by the English Premier League’s Fulham FC, according to the Daily Mirror…Glasgow Celtic, having seen a bid denied for Shalrie Joseph earlier this year, have reaffirmed their interest in him…The Revolution waived Danny Wynn, Jani Galik, Pat Haggerty and Adam Williamson. Galik and Wynn both saw some time with the first team this season, while Haggerty and Williamson only appeared for the reserve.