Houston Outlasts New England, Wins on Penalty Kicks

Houston hoists the championship trophy after defeating New England. (Matt Slocum - AP)
Houston hoists the championship trophy after defeating New England. (Matt Slocum - AP)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 13, 2006

FRISCO, Tex., Nov. 12 -- At the end of a long day at sold-out Pizza Hut Park, after 90 minutes of regulation and another half-hour of overtime, the difference between Houston and New England in Sunday's MLS Cup was a poorly struck penalty kick by Jay Heaps and a simple save by Dynamo goalkeeper Pat Onstad during a deciding tiebreaker.

The moment that changed the match, though, and propelled the Dynamo to the title in its first season since relocating from San Jose last winter occurred about 20 minutes earlier and tied the game at 1-1.

Houston had fallen behind with seven minutes left in overtime on Taylor Twellman's strike, the first goal by the Revolution in three dreary championship appearances. The answer came 71 seconds later on Brian Ching's header -- a goal so sudden that Houston Coach Dominic Kinnear did not react.

"I was in a state of disbelief," he said. "The path that led me from despair to elation was too fast, and my mind couldn't catch up to it. . . . People were jumping on the bench when we scored, and I wasn't jumping because I couldn't believe it."

The shootout was much easier, but just as satisfying, for Kinnear to absorb.

After each club converted three of its first four attempts, Ching beat goalkeeper Matt Reis and Onstad smothered Heaps's meek attempt, triggering an orange-tinted celebration among thousands of Houston supporters who had formed a 250-car, eight-bus convoy along I-45 to comprise a large portion of the 22,427 in attendance.

Thus ended a game that began with so much promise but, like last year when New England and Los Angeles stumbled through a scoreless regulation at this same location, concluded with a fizzle.

Penalty kicks seemed inevitable, but the way they came about was anything but predictable.

Twellman, the former Maryland Terrapin who had beaten D.C. United in the Eastern Conference final with an early goal, was the beneficiary of reserve Khano Smith's courageous run. After one touch into the box, Twellman tucked a 12-yard shot just inside the far post, ending the Revolution's scoreless streak in title games at 346 minutes.

In the past, that would have ended it. But FIFA, the sport's governing body, dumped its golden goal experiment a few years ago and again directed teams to play out the entire overtime.

"When you score so late in the game, the one thing you expect is to be solid and tight," said Revolution Coach Steve Nicol, a former Liverpool defender.

Said Reis: "We just weren't mentally tough to see the game through."

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