EDITOR'S NOTE: Every day at 8 pm ET, full-match replays of MLS Classics will be released in their entirety on YouTube, Facebook, MLSsoccer.com, and the official MLS app (check out the full schedule). Among the MLS Classics: The 2006 MLS Cup final between the Houston Dynamo and New England Revolution and the PK attempt that lived on to this day.
It was a fateful penalty kick that didn’t just affect Jay Heaps that day in Frisco, Texas, but lived with him for years to come and helped shape the narrative of both the New England Revolution and Houston Dynamo.
According to former teammate Taylor Twellman, it was the sole reason Heaps got back into the MLS to coach the Revs.
“That’s is the only reason why Jay took the job,” Twellman said in the lead-up to MLS Cup 2014. “If Jay wants to admit that, fine. If Jay doesn’t, that’s his prerogative. For those of us that know Jay very well, you’re naïve to think this isn’t the reason he took the job. Because 2006 lives with Jay forever.”
Heaps, now the president and general manger of Birmingham Legion FC in the USL Championship, would go on to coach the Revs from 2011-17, leading them to the 2014 MLS Cup final against the LA Galaxy. But he may have only ended up on that path, leaving a job at Morgan Stanley, because of that final penalty in MLS Cup 2006 against the Houston Dynamo, which can be watched in full tonight at 8 pm ET as the latest game in the MLS Classics series.
“I can’t tell you how many countless numbers of beers and discussions we’ve had over the penalty,” Twellman said. “I’ve said it from day one, he was man enough to step up and take a penalty. You can read into that what you will. The moment he missed it I knew in the back of my mind that some way or another that Jay was going to have a part of the Revolution’s future.”
The Revs were hoping the third time was the charm, after MLS Cup defeats to the Galaxy in 2002 and 2005. The Dynamo were in their inaugural season after relocating from San Jose, but looking to continue an on-the-field dynasty that had seen the team win a pair of MLS Cups and a Supporters' Shield over the past five seasons.
The final was in Frisco, Texas at what was then known as Pizza Hut Park (now Toyota Stadium), a 275-mile drive from Houston. As a result, serious orange crush dominated the sellout crowd. The pro-Dynamo crowd witnessed a tense, back-and-forth game, scoreless for 90 minutes.
Things finally turned deep into extra time, with Twellman giving the Revs a 1-0 lead in the 113th minute. However, that lead would last for a mere 71 seconds as the Dynamo's own goalscoring legend, Brian Ching, finished off Houston's response from the kickoff. That set up the first shootout in MLS Cup history.
The shootout took place in front of the largest section of Dynamo fans in the stadium, with each team finishing three of their first four attempts before Ching buried his team's fifth attempt. Up stepped Heaps to extend the shootout another round.
“How hard is it for Jay Heaps to walk up to that penalty kick spot knowing the cup is on the line with 2,000 people yelling and screaming at him?” former Dynamo defender Eddie Robinson said. “[Dynamo 'keeper Pat Onstad] made a fantastic save, but you have to wonder how much of that was going through his head.”
Heaps didn’t think he’d take that pivotal fifth penalty kick. He was slated at No. 7 two weeks earlier in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Chicago.
“Steve Nicol comes over and says, ‘Hey, you’re the fifth kicker,’” Heaps recalled five years later. “I said, ‘Alright coach, let’s go for it.’ In my mind, I was thinking, 'Why was I the fifth kicker if two weeks ago I was No. 7?' But it’s one of those things where you don’t question the coach.”
As fate would have it, the fate of the Cup rested at Heaps' feet.
Heaps walked up confidently, knowing already where he was going to kick the ball.
“I remember walking up, just going, ‘You’re going to go to the ‘keeper’s left,'” Heaps said. “It’s where I had gone in training.”
That, however, changed at the last possible second.
“Onstad takes a jump a little to his left as I’m going up to take it and I see it at the last moment,” Heaps said.
So the defender improvised and tried to beat Onstad up the middle. Fans of both teams, and key players, won’t soon forget what happened next.
“I felt sorry for Jay because he looked like [taking the PK] was the last place in the world that he wanted to be in,” Onstad said. “And I just remember saying to myself, ‘Wait him out as long as you can and try to read him, because you’ll have a chance if you can get to the right side.
“Fortunately for me, I don’t think he hit it as well as he’d have really liked, and I guessed the right way and held onto it.”
"Devastated for two weeks"
Heaps took the miss hard, but as a true leader, he said he didn’t want anyone else on his team to experience that heartbreak.
“After missing the penalty kick, I was devastated for two weeks,” Heaps said. “[But] if someone had to step up and miss it and take the mental anguish, I’d rather it be me. For me, I knew I’d be able to move on from it.”
As for the Dynamo, their on-field celebration took a lot longer than normal.
“We did a lap with the MLS Cup trophy that normally would be something like 10 minutes and it took about an hour because so many of our fans were there,” Robinson said. “They were such a big part of the season with us and it meant so much to share that moment with them. People just love the guys here and they still do. And part of the reason we’ve been so successful is that we feel the pressure to give back to the fans what they give us in inspiration, love and help.”
Here we go again
MLS Cup 2006 didn't just shape individual legacies, but also helped shaped the narrative around two of the best teams of the 2000s. They would meet again in MLS Cup 2007 and the Dynamo would once again beat the Revs, cementing their dynasty while leaving the Revs with the unhappy mark of having reached four finals without winning one.
Both teams made MLS Cup appearances in the 2010s as well, but by then both had been supplanted by another historic MLS powerhouse. The Dynamo fell to the David Beckham-led LA Galaxy two straight years in 2011 and 2012, while the Revolution would also be foiled by the Galaxy in 2014, this time led by iconic Irishman Robbie Keane. Still, the Dynamo's 2006 triumph was, for Robinson, the most special moment in a period full of success.
“This one is the most special,” Robinson said of his third MLS Cup after twice winning with the Earthquakes. “The guys, the move from San Jose, everything that’s going into this whole year and being a new franchise in a new city; this is the best.”