Top 50 MLS Cup Moments: #12 Date with Destiny
N. England 1
|T. Twellman 113'|
|Did You Know?|
|Pat Onstad won the Goalkeeper of the Year award in his first MLS season in 2003 and repeated the feat in 2005. He was named to the MLS Best XI in both seasons.|
#12. Date with Destiny (2006)
The fifth penalty in a championship final shootout: It’s a moment where heroes are born and dreams are crushed.
When veteran New England defender Jay Heaps placed the ball on the spot in MLS Cup 2006, his kick would determine whether the Revolution would stay alive in the pursuit of their first title vs. the Houston Dynamo, or if, for the third time in their history, they would fall just shy of the coveted prize.
Needless to say, Heaps was under some heavy – and quite unexpected – pressure.
“We’d won two weeks earlier against Chicago in a shootout,” Heaps recalled. “I was kicker No. 7. When it was time to do the coin toss for who’s going to kick the PKs [against Houston], I went over for our team, represented our team. I thought pretty much the same five would take them. I thought, ‘Alright, I’ll still be No. 7.”
The Revs won the coin toss and elected to go second with the thinking that if ‘keeper Matt Reis could save the first penalty kick, it would give them a big advantage, especially if it came down to the final PK.
As Heaps rejoined his teammates, head coach Steve Nicol came around and threw him a fat curveball.
“Steve Nicol comes over and says, ‘Hey, you’re the fifth kicker,’” recalled Heaps. “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.”
Houston scored their first three kicks; New England matched the first two, but Pat Noonan put his attempt over the bar. Reis, however, came up with the big stop on the Dynamo's Brad Davis and Taylor Twellman sunk his PK to even the shootout at three apiece entering the final set.
Brian Ching came up to the spot for the Dynamo and, showing plenty of confidence, buried the ball into back of the net.
Then up came Heaps. It was the moment of truth: Score and the Revolution stay in the fight, miss and the team goes home empty-handed.
The defender already knew where he was going before he even placed the ball on the spot.
“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.”
At the other end of the ball, Dynamo goalkeeper Pat Onstad knew that most – if not all – of the pressure in that moment was on Heaps.
“[Penalty kicks are] such a crapshoot sometimes,” Onstad explained. “It’s one of those moments where it’s really out of your control [as a goalkeeper] – either you’ll get a chance to make the save or you won’t. It’s not like you’re going to be in a bad position when a guy kicks a penalty kick.”
Heaps put his hands on his knees, waited for referee Jair Marrufo to blow his whistle, and started his run towards the ball. But just as he neared it, Heaps noticed something out of the corner of his eye.
“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,” said Heaps.
It’s the smallest of moves, but after seeing that, Heaps tried to redirect his effort towards the center and instead produced a shot that was neither far enough left nor straight down the middle.
“I tried to go down the middle at the last second,” Heaps said. “[Onstad is] leaning to his right as I’m about to kick it, and I don’t hit it pure.”
The weak attempt rolled straight to Onstad, who fell to his right and trapped the ball between his hands and his body.
“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.”
Onstad shot up after his save and sprinted towards the sideline, where he was mobbed by his teammates. Heaps, on the other hand, hid his face in his shirt for a second, then walked towards his teammates, receiving consolatory pats on his way past them.
He took the miss pretty hard, but if anyone had to miss that fifth penalty, Heaps said he always preferred it be him rather than anyone else on the team.
“After missing the penalty kick, I was devastated for two weeks,” confessed Heaps. “[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.”
The rest of the 2006 Revolution team have also moved past the heartbreaking moment – for the most part.
“I will never fault Heaps for having the guts to step up and take penalty No. 5, since there were others who didn't step up and take it,” Twellman said. “But I will forever give him trouble for hitting that PK with his purse. Ha!”