Top 50 MLS Cup Moments: #47 Orange Crush
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|T. Twellman 113'|
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|Dynamo defender Eddie Robinson has won four MLS Cup titles ('01, '03, '06, '07), playing in three of those four finals.|
#47. Orange Crush (2006)
It was the perfect storm.
A championship soccer team moves to a city starving for professional soccer. It’s what happened in 2006 when the Dynamo played their first season in Houston after moving from San Jose. A four-goal show by Brian Ching in the Dynamo’s official debut match was followed by a full season of entertaining matches and a magic playoff run.
And the love affair blossomed with every match.
“It was the first season to have this team and we’re making the playoffs and hosting games,” said Jen Cooper, a fixture on the Houston soccer scene and gameday staff manager for the Dynamo. “We snuck into the Western Conference final in front of 30,000 people and boom! We have another game to host and that’s another sellout. That momentum took it to a higher level. The Dallas sales reps were really excited that we made it [to the final].”
The MLS Cup championship in 2006 was held at Pizza Hut Park, home of FC Dallas and 275 miles from the Dynamo’s home at Robertson Stadium. Only the New England Revolution stood between the Dynamo and a first MLS Cup title for Houston.
And there was little doubt that Dynamo faithful would make the four-hour trek for the match. But the orange invasion of Pizza Hut Park reached another scale when ‘Mattress Mack’ got involved.
Jim McIngvale, owner of local Houston furniture giant Gallery Furniture and known as ‘Mattress Mack’ in town, stepped in to help arrange the ultimate soccer caravan.
He paid for busses, a catered lunch for fans on the busses and the parking fees at Pizza Hut Park for several hundred cars. He made sure supporters had all the orange t-shirts, orange markers and crate paper they needed to decorate their vehicles before the caravan took off from the Gallery Furniture parking lot.
“I knew the fans would make a good impression,” said long-time Houston soccer personality and ESPN broadcaster Glenn Davis, who called the match for local Houston radio. “But when I heard the caravan was going up, I felt they would be good for a goal in this game.”
Instead of a goal, they may have been responsible for a save: the one goalkeeper Pat Onstad made on Revolution defender Jay Heaps that turned out to be the decisive play in the penalty kick shootout held in front of the largest Dynamo section in the building.
“How hard is it for Jay Heaps to walk up to that penalty kick spot knowing the cup is on the line with 2000 people yelling and screaming at him?” Dynamo defender Eddie Robinson said. “Pat made a fantastic save, but you have to wonder how much of that was going through his head.”
It wasn’t just the yelling and screaming that made the difference in this match. According to Robinson, the mere presence of the Dynamo fan contingent motivated his team to reciprocate their support with a title.
“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.”
The post-game celebrations proved it. Robinson remembers countless hugs, high-fives, plenty of pictures and even players jumping into the stands to join the fan party.
“They essentially took over Pizza Hut Park,” Davis said. “With all due respect to FC Dallas fans, Houston fans believe Pizza Hut Park is their home.”
Dynamo fans refer to Dallas as “Houston North,” says Cooper, who also recalled a vivid scene as the celebrations continued late into that November evening.
“After the game ended, the sun was going down and sky was even orange. It was so cool,” she said.
It’s the scene that saluted the orange mass of Dynamo fans as they departed PHP for the trip back home. And when the busses pulled up to the home base at the furniture store again, ‘Mattress Mack’ had changed up the neon sign of his large furniture store to read: “Houston Champions.”
“That was my third MLS Cup, and I could only look around the field and smile,” Robinson said. “How grateful I was that the game was in Dallas. New England was due, and it was bound to catch up and they were going to win one. And had that game been held anywhere else, where we didn’t have that kind of fan support, it would’ve been a different outcome for us.”
An MLS Cup host venue has seen the local team advance on just two occasions. In 1997 D.C. United defeated the Colorado Rapids at RFK Stadium and five years later the Revs failed to duplicate the feat against the LA Galaxy at Gillette Stadium in front of 61,000. The Dynamo’s 2006 triumph in Dallas was as close as MLS Cup has come to a third home field.
“At my age, I can look back at it and be humbled by it,” the 33-year-old Robinson said. “There aren’t going to be a lot of those kind of moments left in my career. It was just a really humbling moment to have all these people care most about you and your success. The happiness of their week was determined by whether the Dynamo won, and it meant so much to them. Many were people we never met before, who just love us with a capital L-O-V-E.”