WASHINGTON -- D.C. United saw their dream season come to an end Sunday evening, the 2006 Supporters' Shield winners going down to a 1-0 defeat to the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference Championship at RFK Stadium.
Taylor Twellman stunned RFK Stadium's black-clad masses with a crisp finish just four minutes in for the game's only goal, meeting Pat Noonan's cross from the right wing with a curling right-footed blast into the upper corner of Troy Perkins' net. The Revolution then withstood constant pressure from the Black-and-Red over the remainder of the match, but resolute defending meant the visitors would be heading to the MLS Cup Final for a second consecutive year.
Noonan's run had drawn Bobby Boswell out of the middle and while his low cutback was softly hit, it was still well-placed enough to beat Bryan Namoff, who reacted late and could only watch as Twellman swiveled to his left and hammered home for the 1-0 lead.
It was the ideal opener for the Revolution, but the early goal seemed to pacify the visitors rather than inspire them, as they sat back and allowed United to control possession, stringing together sequence after sequence of passes.
Receiving the ball near midfield, Alecko Eskandarian turned to find a surprising expanse of space in front of him in the 13th minute, allowing the D.C. hitman to push forward and feed Christian Gomez near the Revs 18-yard box. The Argentinean playmaker cut inside and slapped a well-aimed shot that forced Matt Reis to scramble to his right and palm the ball to safety.
A speedy United foray into New England territory led to a dangerous near-post cross from Freddy Adu, and Moreno arrived at the perfect moment but skipped his first-timer just wide as Avery John nipped at his heels.
United created another chance when a Gomez corner kick was flicked on to Boswell at the far post, and Reis knew little about the tall center back's header back across goal as it dinked off the top of the crossbar and dropped to Eskandarian, whose quick angled shot was deflected wide from close range.
United continued to press hard for an equalizer with back-to-back corners in the 22nd minute, and Eskandarian came close with a rifled shot that was blocked by a mass of white jerseys in front of the net.
But the Revolution looked dangerous every time they ventured forward. Just past the half-hour mark, Joe Franchino drilled a low left-footed shot inches wide of Perkins' left post and two minutes later, Twellman skied his volley well high of the target despite being wide open at the far side of the D.C. box.
Daniel Hernandez was doing good work in the heart of the New England midfield, collaborating with Shalrie Joseph to break up passes and protect the back line, so it was a blow for Steve Nicol's side when the holding midfielder limped off the field three minutes before the half, to be replaced by Jeff Larentowicz.
Just moments later, Joseph made a risky sliding challenge on Moreno at the very edge of the Revs penalty area, hacking down the D.C. captain as he raced forward to meet an endline cutback. But referee Kevin Stott scurried over to point emphatically to the turf just outside the line, and on the ensuing free kick Gomez hit his attempt into the wall and the half ended at 1-0.
D.C. immediately resumed its dominance of possession after the break, and nearly drew level off a spectacular long-distance drive by Adu.
The teenager was more than 25 yards out from goal when he received a pass in the 48th minute, but he had time to pick his head up and target the top corner with a cracking blast that was matched by a top-caliber leaping save from Reis.
Then Eskandarian nearly released Gomez with a well-weighted through ball into the box, but the playmaker's first touch was uncharacteristically heavy and Reis was able to dash off his line to smother the ball at his feet.
Given their strong form over the past two months, New England's defensive posture was somewhat surprising but Nicol clearly felt comfortable with his side's ability to sit on their lead and ride out D.C.'s pressure.
Nowak, for his part, elected to tweak United's look with a 67th-minute substitution, yanking off a visibly distraught Adu and throwing Matias Donnet into the fray.
But it was a Revolution sub that made a more immediate impact, as Khano Smith came on in place of Franchino and nearly doubled his side's advantage with a sizzling blast from 20 yards out. The Bermudan ran onto Noonan's layoff and unleashed an outswinging screamer that flew inches high and wide of the upper corner.
Every time the Revolution pushed forward in search of a game-clinching second, it gave United a precious opportunity to break out at the other end and Olsen came very close to punishing them on one such play in the 76th minute.
Moreno led the charge with a long run down the left channel, lifting a diagonal ball into the box that Olsen tried to nod over Reis. But the New England netminder anticipated the move and kept close to his line, enabling him to make an easy grab.
The home side's hopes took a major hit in the 80th minute when Gomez pulled up lame after pressuring John near the D.C. bench. The integral playmaker had fallen victim to leg cramps and could not continue, forcing the more defensive-minded Clyde Simms to enter the match.
Though Reis was struggling to deal with United's crosses from the wing, their service largely lacked accuracy. But a late Donnet effort forced John to head right to second-half sub Rod Dyachenko at the top of the Revs box, and the rookie striker hit a looping volley that looked to have caught Reis out of position, only for the effort to spin over the crossbar.
Trying desperately to fill Gomez's shoes, Olsen was working his heart out to the very end, first arriving a fraction of a second too late to nick Josh Gros' diagonal pass from Reis, then nearly heading home in a crowded Revs box at the death. But his efforts went unrewarded as the visitors killed off the clock to salt away the result and earn their second consecutive Eastern Conference title.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.
New England Revolution
vs. D.C. United
November 05, 2006 -- RFK Stadium
Taylor Twellman 2
(Pat Noonan 1, Jay Heaps 1)
New England Revolution -- Matt Reis, James Riley, Michael Parkhurst, Avery John, Jay Heaps, Andy Dorman, Daniel Hernandez
(Jeff Larentowicz 44), Shalrie Joseph, Joe Franchino
(Khano Smith 67), Pat Noonan, Taylor Twellman,
Substitutes Not Used: Jose Manuel Abundis, Jose Cancela, Steve Ralston, Willie Sims, Doug Warren
D.C. United -- Troy Perkins, Bryan Namoff, Bobby Boswell, Facundo Erpen, Joshua Gros, Brian Carroll, Christian Gomez
(Clyde Simms 81), Ben Olsen, Freddy Adu
(Matias Donnet 65), Alecko Eskandarian
(Rod Dyachenko 75), Jaime Moreno,
Substitutes Not Used: Jeff Carroll, Ryan McIntosh, Devon McTavish, Brandon Prideaux
|D.C. United||New England Revolution
(Ben Olsen 4)
(Taylor Twellman 3)
|shots on goal:||8||
(3 tied with 2)
(Taylor Twellman 1)
(Ben Olsen 4)
(4 tied with 2)
(Jaime Moreno 2)
(Pat Noonan 2)
(Christian Gomez 6)
(Andy Dorman 1)
(Matt Reis 8)
NE -- Andy Dorman (caution; Reckless Foul) 2
referee: Kevin Stott
Referee's Assistants: George Gansner; Paul Scott
4th official: Ricardo Salazar
time of game: 1:51
weather: Partly Cloudy -and- 50 degrees
All statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial