When talking about the Texas Derby, there’s one match that comes to mind above all others: the second leg of their 2007 MLS Cup Playoff battle. The pulsating match played in front of more than 30,000 at Robertson Stadium finished 4-1 after extra time (4-2 on aggregate), but this game was about so much more than that.
In honor of the 2013 Texas Derby, which is set to be contested this weekend in Frisco, Texas, MLSsoccer.com's Darrell Lovell and Daniel Robertson spoke to some of the key players from that playoff series to re-count the tale of the wildest night in Texas Derby history.
Heading into the second leg, FC Dallas held a slim advantage having won the first leg of the series 1-0 on a goal from Clarence Goodson.
Former Houston Dynamo center back Eddie Robinson: I remember a vision of watching it slow motion [when Goodson scored]. I remember at the end of the game feeling very calm, confident and thinking, "That’s fine. We can deal with it." I hated losing the ball and he hit it over me and smashed it in. Any other team would’ve been worried and in a lot of trouble.
More than 30,000 packed into Robertson Stadium for the second leg, creating an atmosphere that, in 2007, was one of the best MLS had ever seen.
Houston Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis: It was crazy. To go there and the way we had to come back. I remember the fans in the stadium, the emotion of everything. I remember the place going crazy because it all happened so late. It was do or die and we ended up doing it.
Former FC Dallas goalkeeper Ray Burse: First thing I remember is the atmosphere in the stadium. It was unlike anything I’d really played in before in Major League Soccer in terms of the volume of the crowd and then also I feel like the tension in the game was unlike anything I’d ever played in at any level.
FC Dallas assistant coach Marco Ferruzzi: As soon as they hit Houston, they were pretty much a special team with a lot of key players from the successful San Jose group. The rivalry itself being the two Texas teams, the fans that get behind it, it was actually kind of wonderful to be in that heightened playoff moment against them because you really got a taste of something different. The balance of power has kind of gone back and forth, but Houston always brings it and we like the matchup because it always brings the best out of us.
Further heaping pressure on the defending MLS Cup champions, Carlos Ruiz struck for FC Dallas in the 14th minute, quieting the rabid crowd at Robertson Stadium.
Ferruzzi: We had a couple things that happened just before the game in terms of player selection. Clarence was scheduled to play then he came down with something. You could kind of see things starting to build. But when we got that goal, we were like, "OK, we’re going to be fine we’ve just got to weather the storm."
FC Dallas forward Kenny Cooper: I think it was a long ball into me and I just headed it back to him. Carlos in the box is just an amazing goalscorer, and I really enjoyed my time with him. I don’t think it was an easy finish for him, but he was able to score a bunch of different types of goals and he took that one really well.
The first bad omen for FCD came when goalkeeper Darío Sala was forced to exit the game midway through the first half after suffering a broken right ring finger. On came second-year goalkeeper Ray Burse.
Sala: When you come out of the game, it’s a really bad feeling because you always think and regret that you could’ve done more. You feel that you let the team down and you let your teammates down, but the thing is at the moment I had to make the decision whether I am really helping the team because any ball that comes to my goal I have to punch it or try to avoid touching it with my right hand.
Burse: To this day, I thought he had done something to his knee, I didn’t realize he’d broken his finger. Going into the first leg of the playoff game, I’d played a few games and it was kind of up in the air as to who was going to play in the first leg. I think when I found out I wasn’t playing, I was down. But our goalkeeper coach at the time always told me on the bench every game to be ready, be ready. As the backup goalkeeper, you hear that but you don’t really ever think there’s a possibility. To think that it would happen in a game like that, it was crazy.
I remember sitting on the bench next to Aaron Pitchkolan and we were just joking around or whatever and all of a sudden Nestor Merlo, the goalkeeping coach, runs up to me says, "You’ve got to get ready to play." It was somewhat of a state of shock at first, but then it quickly subsides and it quickly turns into thinking about what I need to do to be ready to step on the field to help my team win the game.
FCD saw out the remainder of the first half, taking a 2-0 aggregate lead to the locker room
Robinson: Two years earlier, you look at the [San Jose Earthquake vs. LA Galaxy series] and look at the names involved in that. [Brian] Ching, Dwayne [De Rosario], myself. Those guys that had been down 4-0 on aggregate. I don’t recall being worried or scared or anything.
Burse: I remember going into the locker room and everyone’s excited but we’re trying to keep our calm. [Former FCD head coach] Steve Morrow was rallying us saying we need to keep a calm head going out into the second half.
Disaster struck for FC Dallas less than a minute into the second half when Arturo Alvarez (right, with Real Salt Lake) became tangled with Davis in the corner and kicked out at the midfielder, forcing the referee to show a red card to the FCD attacker.
Ferruzzi: Getting that goal early in Houston was critical for us, but the thing about Houston with their crowd and definitely a fevered pitch is the emotions started to run high, especially in a playoff game. We unfortunately exposed a little bit of a lack of our experience or maturity on [the red card]. Then it just became a momentum game and you felt it coming from all sides from the stands and the players and they just seemed to gain momentum after that.
Sala: I remember the red card coming from nowhere and it probably was the worst thing that could’ve happened at the time. We started to play against adversity because the Dynamo started to run everywhere, they attacked us with 11 players in our half and it was a lot of pressure.
Before FCD could blink, Stuart Holden and Ching struck for Houston, sending the crowd at Robertson Stadium into orbit and the wild match into 30 minutes of extra time.
Burse: [After the red card], it was 11 Houston players plus one, which would be the fans encouraging the players and giving them even more momentum than they already had.
Ching: We got a little fortunate one of their players lost their head and got a red card. We put them under pressure all game and to get those goals in extra time and solidify it and move on, it was pretty special.
The Dynamo onslaught continued into extra time and 10-man FC Dallas wilted. Ching struck in the 5th minute of extra time before a brilliant Davis free kick sealed the result for Houston.
Robinson: Great finish by Stuart. Great finishes by Ching and Davis, two historic figures in Major League Soccer. I just think that was one of those games that was stereotypical of a Dynamo team. If you ask guys that played for LA in ’05, played for Dallas in ’07 or played for Pachuca in ’08, they’d tell you they hated playing us. Partially because yeah, we’re a-holes on the field, but we’re never out of it. We’re just never out of it. I wish I would’ve coined the phrase "The Goonies" before those guys in San Jose because that’s the way it was. Never say die. Don’t quit. That’s a perfect example of what this organization’s been built around.
Davis: To be totally honest, I remember scoring that game and it was the probably the best free kick I’ve ever hit. You go back and look at it, and it’s the best free kick I’ve ever hit. I remember that game and where we were sitting and what we had to do to come back.
Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear: You don’t really pay attention to the crowd too much during the game, but I remember when we scored the fourth goal on Brad’s free kick the place just was electric. I think the fans enjoyed it. To be down 2-0 and then get back into it gave us hope. The momentum kept swinging our way. With each goal, the fans' reaction got louder and louder and then the fourth goal the place totally went bananas, which was really good.
The win propelled the Dynamo on to win their second straight MLS Cup while FC Dallas didn't return to the playoffs until making a run to MLS Cup in 2010.
Burse: I think, as I guess I’m approaching retirement now, that’ll be a game that sticks out in my memory as something I’ll tell my kids about. I was trying to think back and I remember looking down at the field at one point and there were watches, chicken bones and all kinds of crazy stuff that the Houston fans were throwing at us to pelt us. Growing up as a kid in American soccer, that was something that was very rare, but what a great opportunity to play. It was awesome.
If you just look at from that point forward the direction that Houston’s gone and the direction that Dallas has gone, and you think if we were able to come out victorious in that game, would it have shifted the tide possibly? It’s all speculation, but at that point in time it was a huge sense of disappointment.
Sala: It was the worst feeling after that because losing to our rival in their backyard is one of the worst feelings that you can have in soccer. It was like losing the championship.
Definitely that night I couldn’t sleep thinking that was our big chance and also against our rival. They’re nasty, they’re really taunting us and wanting to beat us, the same as us, but I remember that time the people went crazy with the victory and it was an awful feeling for us.
Ferruzzi: Everybody in the locker room was like zombies man. Just completely disheartened and I’d say you’re going to feel like that after every playoff loss without a doubt. But against Houston, when you felt like you had them and you turned the corner on them, it felt like you took another two steps back.
Cooper: I was really emotional in the locker room after the game, I remember just hugging all my teammates and being very emotional. You kind of carry those memories around with you and it gives you some added motivation.