FRISCO, Texas (AP) - Just when the New England Revolution seemed mere minutes from finally winning an MLS Cup, Houston's Brian Ching brought the party to an abrupt halt.
Then the Dynamo striker put the Revolution away for good.
Seventy-one seconds after New England's Taylor Twellman broke a scoreless tie with barely seven minutes left in overtime, Ching brought a Houston-heavy crowd from desperation to elation with a stunning header for a 1-1 tie, forcing a shootout.
"I didn't think we were going to get one," said Ching, a Kamehameha Schools graduate from Haleiwa who was named MVP. "But we were going to die trying."
He then nailed the decisive goal in the fifth and final set of penalty kicks, which the Dynamo won 4-3 to capture the MLS Cup in their first year in Texas.
Faced with a must-goal in the final attempt of the shootout, Houston goalkeeper Pat Onstad blocked Jay Heaps' line drive to the left side of the net and lay cradling the ball as Dynamo fans draped in fluorescent orange erupted.
The championship was technically the third for the former San Jose Earthquakes, which won in 2001 and 2003. It was the first MLS Cup final to be decided on penalty kicks.
The loss was the third defeat in the league championship for the Revolution, who lost 1-0 in overtime to Los Angeles last year. New England also made the final game and lost in 2002.
"We've lost every possible way we can lose in the finals," Twellman said.
After playing even for all of regulation and one overtime, the Revolution finally broke the game open and appeared just minutes away from victory. In the 113th minute, Twellman charged up the field, split two defenders and shot the ball into opposite corner of the net past sliding Dynamo defender Kelly Gray.
Just over a minute later, before the attending Revolution fans' joy had a chance to sink in, Ching headed in the tying goal off a long cross from Brian Mullan that first deflected off New England's Avery John.
"Honestly, when Chinger's header hit the net, I was in shock because I couldn't believe we just scored," Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear said. "The path from their goal to his goal was so fast, and we had just gone from despair. My head couldn't catch up."
Ching later scored the winning penalty kick in the fifth set, stutter-stepping on his approach before knocking the ball that skipped through New England's Matt Reis' outstretched fingertips.
Each team made its first two penalty shots before the Revolution's Pat Noonan, one of New England's top strikers all season, skimmed his blast off the top of the crossbar.
Reis briefly saved New England by correctly guessing Brad Davis' shot to the left side, but after Twellman forced a fifth set of kicks, Onstad pounced on Heaps' shin-high shot to the left corner and was quickly buried under a pile of hollering and thrashing teammates who sprinted toward him from midfield.
Twellman especially didn't like losing on penalty kicks -- the same way Italy beat France to win the World Cup this summer, a tournament that was full of shootouts.
"They should have just let us keep playing," he said.
The Revolution lost another final in which they didn't always play like big-game tested veterans, despite its two previous MLS Cup appearances and five straight Eastern Conference finals. In all, New England extended its scoreless streak in MLS Cup games to more than 336 minutes before Twellman's goal, a drought that belies an offense that led all teams in the playoffs with 19 shots on goal.
"We had a one-goal lead with seven minutes left," Noonan said. "You're not going to score 10 goals in a final. We were right where we wanted to be."
Revolution midfielder Clint Dempsey, playing in perhaps his last MLS game if his desire to play in Europe next season comes true, didn't start because of a strained right ankle. He entered the game in the 62nd minute -- wearing yellow shoes perhaps a shade brighter than Houston's orange jerseys -- and energized New England's attack in the second half.
That extra aggression resulted in Twellman breaking the scoreless tie, but the Revolution barely had a chance to celebrate before Ching found himself behind most of the defense and plunking a header past the arms of a diving Reis.
Houston finished second in the Western Conference, quickly finding a fan base after leaving San Jose because of low attendance. The city initially branded the team Houston 1836 before complaints that the name was offensive to Mexicans, because it referred to the year Texas defeated Mexico for its independence.
The championship brought the first professional sports title to Houston since the WNBA's Comets won the last of four straight titles in 2000.
"When they scored, we fought back," Ching said. "We weren't going to lose today."
- UNCG -