Three times D.C. United struck, and three times the New England Revolution responded. But they had no final answer in a gripping penalty kick shootout that sent United to their first MLS Cup in five years, winning the shootout 4-3 and clinching the Eastern Conference Championship after the teams played to a 3-3 tie over 120 minutes on Saturday night at RFK Stadium.
Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis has earned a reputation as a penalty stopper in getting his club to the Eastern Conference Championship. And while he saved two penalties in the six-round shootout, United 'keeper Nick Rimando stopped two of his own (also seeing one crash off the crossbar), including the last kick from Clint Dempsey that put D.C. United their fifth MLS Cup, this time against the Kansas City Wizards next Sunday.
A thrilling end-to-end match saw United take three leads, and New England answer every one. Alecko Eskandarian gave the home side the lead after just 11 minutes, but Taylor Twellman answered for the Revolution just six minutes later. Then Jaime Moreno restored United's lead just four minutes later, but a Steve Ralston penalty kick just before halftime sent the teams level into the break.
|D.C. advances 4-3 on PKs|
A rough-and-tumble affair got off to a quick start, as New England's Shalrie Joseph earned one of the quickest yellow cards in MLS history, his name taken by referee Terry Vaughn after just 15 seconds for a foul on Jaime Moreno.
Then almost out of nowhere, Eskandarian sent the crowd into delirium in the 11th minute with a blinder of a goal that looked unstoppable the moment it left his foot.
A poor Jay Heaps clearance was picked off by Ben Olsen, which played into Eskandarian's path as the striker raced down the left flank. The second-year striker took a touch then unleashed a highlight-reel blast from the edge of the area that arrowed past Reis and hit the net just inside the far post.
But four minutes later, Twellman stunned the RFK faithful with a well-taken equalizer in the 17th minute. Marshall Leonard lifted a nice service to the far post and as Ezra Hendrickson scrambled backwards, Twellman ghosted in behind him and neatly beat Rimando with a neatly-taken full volley, sidefooted home past Rimando.
Yet more magic from Moreno again gave the home side the lead. He took control on the left edge of the Revs box and noticed Reis cheating up in anticipation of a cross, and so curled an exquisite shot just inside the near post that was as skillful as it was cheeky. Reis's disgust was amplified by the streams of toilet paper that cascaded down on his box from ecstatic fans in "La Norte" section just behind the north goal.
But New England responded by turning up the intensity in midfield, and had United on the back foot for much of the remainder of the first half. The best chance fell to Ralston, but he hammered a shot into the goal's outside netting from a tight angle on the right with Twellman lurking at the far post.
The match took another dramatic turn when Leonard's cross from the left was handled by Brian Carroll in the box, and referee Vaughn did not hesitate to point to the spot. Ralston stepped up to take the penalty, and got quite lucky when his shot hit the right post and deflected off Rimando and back into the goal to give the Revolution a deserved equalizer.
But yet another jaw-dropping goal gave United their third lead of the night in the 67th minute, this time from the head of Gomez. Earnie Stewart had been whipping in dangerous crosses all evening, and he unleashed another one after Eskandarian's well-placed ball into space put him in behind the Revs defense. The teasing service to the far post found an onrushing Gomez, whose glancing header looped softly but accurately back across the face of goal and into the corner, giving Reis no chance.
Yet once again the Revolution found the will to respond, this from a well-placed corner kick from Ralston five minutes from full time. Noonan, inexplicably left open at the far post, used his height advantage well to rise over Rimando and bring his side level -- again.
As both sides fatigued, chances fell to both teams in the extra sessions. Twellman blasted over from a good position after eight minutes, then he forced a good save from Rimando on a low shot.
Then in the second session, there were appeals for a penalty from United and their massed faithful when Avery John seemed to clatter into substitute Santino Quaranta, but referee Vaughn was unmoved. Noonan and Eskandarian followed with opportunities that just blazed over the bar, but the final whistle eventually came, and with it the penatly-kick shootout.
Olsen stepped up first for United, but the normally dependable veteran hit a poor shot just to Reis's right, which the former UCLA netminder had little difficulty stopping. But the equally experienced Ralston let his team down too, smacking his effort against the crossbar with Rimando diving the wrong way.
United then hit three in a row through Quaranta, Freddy Adu and Eskandarian, while Reis and Twellman converted for the Revolution.
But the next New England kicker, Jay Heaps, chose to shoot to his right and Rimando read him correctly and palmed the shot away. Moreno strode forward for United with a chance to clinch the match, but his cramping legs might have been a factor as he hit weakly to Reis's left, an easy save for the Revs netminder.
Needing to score to send the match into extra kicks, Joseph stepped up next for the visitors, and the big Grenadian slotted home accurately.
Brian Carroll then converted his kick to again give United the lead, but Dempsey's low shot to his right was slapped away by a sprawling Rimando, who sprinted away in delight to begin the celebrations, knowing that he had just booked his side's ticket for a date with Kansas City at the MLS Cup, to be played on Sun., Nov. 14, at 12:30 p.m. PT, televised on ABC Sports.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Nick Rimando (D.C. United)
New England Revolution (1-0-1) vs. D.C. United (2-0-0)
Eastern Conference Final
November 06, 2004 -- RFK Stadium
DC -- Alecko Eskandarian 2 (Ben Olsen 1) 11
NE -- Taylor Twellman 2 (Marshall Leonard 1) 17
DC -- Jaime Moreno 2 (Earnie Stewart 1) 21
NE -- Steve Ralston 1 (penalty kick) 44
DC -- Christian Gomez 1 (Earnie Stewart 2, Alecko Eskandarian 1) 67
NE -- Pat Noonan 1 (Steve Ralston 2) 85
PENALTY KICK SHOOTOUT
DC -- Olsen (saved)
NE -- Ralston (hit crossbar)
DC -- Quaranta (goal)
NE -- Reis (goal)
DC -- Adu (goal)
NE -- Twellman (goal)
DC -- Eskandarian (goal)
NE -- Heaps (saved)
DC -- Moreno (saved)
NE -- Joseph (goal)
DC -- Carroll (goal)
NE -- Dempsey (saved)
New England Revolution -- Matt Reis, Jay Heaps, Rusty Pierce, Avery John, Steve Ralston, Jose Cancela (Andy Dorman 68), Clint Dempsey, Shalrie Joseph, Marshall Leonard (Brian Kamler 81), Pat Noonan, Taylor Twellman.
Substitutes Not Used: Richie Baker, Felix Brillant, Doug Warren.
TOTAL SHOTS: 18 (Pat Noonan 5, Taylor Twellman 5); SHOTS ON GOAL: 10 (Pat Noonan 3, Taylor Twellman 3); FOULS: 17 (Avery John 5); OFFSIDES: 5 (Taylor Twellman 3); CORNER KICKS: 5 (Jose Cancela 2, Steve Ralston 2); SAVES: 5 (Matt Reis 5)
D.C. United -- Nick Rimando, Bryan Namoff (Santino Quaranta 106), Ezra Hendrickson, Mike Petke, Earnie Stewart (Brandon Prideaux 81), Brian Carroll, Christian Gomez (Freddy Adu 69), Ben Olsen, Joshua Gros, Alecko Eskandarian, Jaime Moreno.
Substitutes Not Used: Kevin Ara, Tim Lawson, Troy Perkins, Eliseo Quintanilla, David Stokes, Jason Thompson.
TOTAL SHOTS: 16 (Alecko Eskandarian 6); SHOTS ON GOAL: 8 (Alecko Eskandarian 3, Christian Gomez 3); FOULS: 25 (Bryan Namoff 7); OFFSIDES: 1 (Bryan Namoff 1); CORNER KICKS: 8 (Christian Gomez 3); SAVES: 7 (Nick Rimando 7)
NE -- Shalrie Joseph (caution; Reckless Foul) 1
DC -- Alecko Eskandarian (caution; Reckless Foul) 49
NE -- Avery John (caution; Reckless Foul) 55
DC -- Bryan Namoff (caution; Tackle from Behind) 58
NE -- Rusty Pierce (caution; Pushing, Holding) 62
DC -- Ben Olsen (caution; Reckless Foul) 87
Referee: Terry Vaughn
Referee's Assistants: -Craig Lowry; Chris Strickland
4th Official: Alex Prus
All statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial.