In my earlier piece about the Texas Rivalry, I noted that, “I could probably write 1,000 words about this match that wouldn’t fully encapsulate just how awesome that day was (and still is).” I still hold to that and felt the few paragraphs I gave to just the FC Dallas series didn’t do justice to not only that series but the playoffs as a whole. The attendance has never been higher. The rabidness of the fans hasn’t been better. The supporters groups were in the best form of their very short lives. Perhaps most importantly, the dominance of the players hasn’t been the same since.
With the Dynamo hanging in the doldrums of a mediocre Eastern Conference, I thought I’d look back at the height of our power (or at least the beginning of it) and show just what this club is capable of to remind fans, and staff and players, just what we look like when everything is clicking together, from the ownership on down.
The Texas Rivalry was kicking on all cylinders (thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week), the Dynamo finished the season 4-2-1 to finish 1 point behind Western Conference leaders Chivas USA and we were never healthier. Expectations were high despite a disappointing loss to a Beckham-less LA Galaxy to close out the home schedule in front of a sell-out crowd. The lead up to the first match against FC Dallas had Dynamo fans excited, knowing they could, and should, get a result in Frisco, having gotten a 3 – 0 rout just a month earlier.
The series started off poorly, though, as the Dynamo dropped a 1 – 0 result in Frisco. This was especially bad since they played well, managing 10 shots, 4 on frame, in the 2nd half. Despite the loss, Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear told the Houston Chronicle, “Right from the get-go, I’m sure Dallas is expecting us to come at them, and we shouldn’t disappoint them.” Later on he gave his players a boost of confidence: “I thought in the second half we were very good. Can we continue that into Friday night? The mutual feeling among the guys is yes, we can.”
Going into the match, everyone knew the game was going to be, to put it mildly, chippy. FC Dallas committed 23 fouls versus Houston’s 8. Even for a rivalry known for hard tackles, and lots of them, this match set a new level. Believe it or not, but the foul count for the 2nd leg, alone, was 23 – 17, making the total foul count for the series as 46 for FC Dallas versus Houston’s 25. Insane. But it only gets better as in the home leg alone, Houston outshot the Hoops 24 – 5, with a shot on goal comparison of 13 – 3.
Despite every attempt by Dallas to slow Houston down, via an early goal to give them a 2 goal cushion in the series or their insane number of fouls, the team, and fans, never gave up. They kept on pushing. When Kinnear subbed out fan favorite Craig Waibel for local youngster Stuart Holden, everything magically clicked and the team never looked back.
Holden scored the game’s equalizer and was instrumental in holding possession and allowing Canadian great Dwayne De Rosario to have the freedom of movement that has made him one of MLS’ all time great players. This freedom allowed him to set up Ching for the series tie. Several other beautiful passes from De Rosario went unrewarded and the match went into overtime. Ching bagged the series winner before Brad Davis curled in a shot that will be a strong contender for MLS’ Goal of the (2nd) Decade. Wow. Just…oh man.
Carlos Ruiz started the match strong but became more and more invisible as it wore on. Maybe it had something to do with seeing this in the stands. Who knows? Either way, boom, end match after another red card for Dallas and the Dynamo prove they are still the best team in Texas. Luckily Kansas City was able to pull an upset on the Goats, and the Dynamo got to host the Conference Final.
So what was this match like? Well, here’s a video showing Texian Army and El Batallon celebrating Nate Jaqua’s first half goal:
Yup, it was pretty much like that the whole time. If you thought the Dynamo dominated FC Dallas, that was nothing compared to the show they put on against the Wizards (since renamed Sporting KC). From the opening kick, you could tell that the Wizards had zero chance and were there merely to amuse Dynamo fans on their way to Washington DC for MLS Cup. The Wizards never threatened goalkeeper Pat Onstad while the Dynamo were all over KC net-minder Kevin Hartman. Every part of the team worked flawlessly to control the match. Which, not surprisingly, was the plan.
Waibel told the Chronicle: “We did everything right; we executed. (Coach Dominic Kinnear) laid out an awesome game plan for us, we trained for it, we executed it well, and today is an example of the quality that we have from top to bottom.”
When the Dynamo had just a hair over 30,000 in attendance for the Dallas game, it felt like the place was packed to the bones. Well, apparently there was a little bit more room and everyone, and I mean everyone, attended the match to set a record for the Dynamo, which still stands, at 30, 972.
The only downside on the night was a freak injury to striker Brian Ching, who went down in the 2nd half and would later be ruled out for the Championship game. He wasn’t tackled, shoved or anything else. His leg just gave out on him while attempting to head in a cross from Davis. As a sign of respect, New England Revolution manager Steve Nicol allowed Ching to join his teammates on the bench, when normally he would have had to sit in either a suite or the stands. Class act, that guy.
After wrapping up the match with a De Rosario goal in the 2nd half, they received their trophy for being Western Conference Champions from the TV announcer, Max Bretos. Yup…true story (Check out 4:48 here). Kind of strange if you ask me but those were certainly different times. Besides, at the moment, no one really cared. We just wanted to see Dom take a long, hard chug from that cup.
On to DC! I won’t get into all the shenanigans that went down that weekend with the fans. Those are best told at a bar over some beers (strangely enough the exact location and beverage of choice where said shenanigans occured). The best bit of news, at least in hindsight, came from fan-favorite Bernardo Fallas from the Chronicle, when he made his pre-game predictions:
“The Revolution are overdue a championship and have the team and the conditions to do it. But if there is a team that can deny them — and prove people wrong — it’s the red-hot Dynamo. It will be another close one. But really, can you lose three straight finals? Revolution 1, Dynamo 0″
He certainly heard it from fans after the match, and I’m sure he couldn’t have been happier to have been proven wrong.
The match itself was actually a very entertaining one. The Revolution came out swinging, and swinging hard. They controlled the first half of the match and only through some superb plays by goalkeeper Pat Onstad were they unable to jump out to an early lead. They would eventually find a goal, their first in regulation at MLS Cup, from Taylor Twellman who headed home a beautiful cross.
At half time Kinnear rearranged the players to match Nicol’s 5-man midfield. From there the Dynamo enjoyed much more possession and were far more threatening. A scrappy goal from Joseph Ngwenya and a rare header from De Rosario sealed the match, but not before a furious offensive assault from New England. Some more amazing work from Onstad kept the score and the Dynamo were crowned champs!
My personal favorite moment of the match came when De Rosario headed in the game winner. Dynamo faithful went nuts, including setting off a fire extinguisher in the stands (check out 7:02 here). Even back here in Houston, you could just feel that we were going to pull it off.
With the win, the Dynamo became the 2nd team in MLS history to be back-to-back champions. They also completed one of the best playoff runs in league history. One could make the argument that the 2008 squad was a stronger one, but they failed to bring home a single piece of hardware, despite playing in 6 competitions (and setting a record for games played).
Hopefully the current Dynamo can look back at this memorable season and replicate several pieces that were so successful and give us another Championship squad.