WASHINGTON - The MLS Cup is supposed to be the climax of a team's season. But the game has become a recurring nightmare for the Revolution, whose 2-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo yesterday was their fourth defeat in four appearances.
This game produced a pronounced feeling of déjà vu in the first MLS Cup between the same teams in successive years. The Revolution took the lead on a Taylor Twellman goal, as they did a year ago, then failed to maintain their intensity in squandering the advantage.
Last year's final was more dramatic, the goals scored late in extra time. This time, Twellman converted in the 20th minute, the Revolution spending the rest of the match squandering chances and then watching almost helplessly as the Dynamo rallied in the second half before 39,859 at RFK Stadium.
"If you told us before the game the chances we'd make in the game we would have been happy," Revolution coach Steve Nicol said. "We could have scored three or four goals and they scored a scrappy goal to tie. It's real simple. You don't take chances and it comes back to bite you, and that's exactly what happened. But this has absolutely nothing to do with any other game."
The Revolution overwhelmed Houston in the midfield in the first half, controlling possession and creating offense through Khano Smith on the left wing. But the Dynamo adjusted in the second half, as they did a year ago, switching from a 4-4-2 setup to match the Revolution's 3-5-2, sending left back Wade Barrett forward and moving Dwayne De Rosario into an outside left midfield role and Brad Davis to a central spot.
De Rosario was involved in both Houston goals, setting up Joseph Ngwenya's tying score in the 61st minute and heading in the decider in the 74th.
Houston set the second-half tone on the kickoff, penetrating into the penalty area on a Craig Waibel cross. The Dynamo scored off a kickoff in last year's final, Brian Ching finishing a cross from the right wing. Though Ching (calf) missed this match, the Dynamo still were able to exploit the Revolution defense with crosses.
The Revolution defenders started feeling the pressure early in the second half. De Rosario found room on the left, crossing for Waibel, who ran into the penalty area and fired wide (55th). That signaled the game was opening up, and the Revolution nearly capitalized, Pat Noonan volleying high (59th) off a Steve Ralston cross.
But the Dynamo started taking control. The Revolution's Shalrie Joseph fouled Davis just inside the halfway line in the 59th minute, then had to quickly retreat to head away the free kick in the penalty area, and also head away the ensuing corner. Brian Mullan then sent a cross from in front of the Houston bench, Avery John attempting to head it away but instead prolonging the flight of the ball for De Rosario at the back post. Ngwenya took De Rosario's short cross and scuffed a left-foot shot but controlled the rebound against John and finished right-footed to tie the score.
In last year's MLS Cup, a Houston cross that deflected off John's head led to Ching's tying goal.
In the 73d minute, Barrett set up De Rosario, whose shot was saved by Matt Reis. A minute later, the Dynamo set up a counterattack, the goal resulting from a cross near the same place on the field that led to the tying goal. This time, Davis curled a left-footer for De Rosario to make a snap header from the top of the penalty area just inside the near post.
"I went up to challenge and the ball looked like it was going over [De Rosario's] head," Revolution defender Jay Heaps said. "There have been some great goals in big games and that was pretty big."
Noonan had a chance to tie the game four minutes later, turning and shooting wide to the left from the edge of the penalty area.
Ralston (cramps) was replaced by Andy Dorman in the 78th minute. Though the Revolution missed Ralston's direction in midfield, Dorman set up two chances, a Noonan left-footer that went wide in the 82d minute and a diving header by Jeff Larentowicz that was kick-saved by Pat Onstad in the 87th.
The Revolution goal was set up by a Joseph-Ralston combination, Joseph one-timing the pass into the penalty area on the right, Ralston then taking a touch and crossing to Twellman near the penalty spot. Twellman went up between Mullan and Waibel to send a header past Onstad.
Twellman also had a left-footer saved by Onstad off a Smith penetration into the penalty area in the 33d minute.
"You could see it in our eyes, we knew this was our chance," Twellman said. "But it didn't happen. We didn't deserve it in 2002 but we thought last year was ours and the year before, too. We had Houston on the ropes twice and they came back both times, so you have to give them credit."