Despite the Sounders playing for their first MLS Cup this year, one top match took place on the CenturyLink Field turf.

Share story

  1. Houston Dynamo 1, New England Revolution 1 (Houston wins 4-3 in penalty kicks) – Nov. 12, 2006

The first MLS Cup final between teams that failed to win their respective conferences also had been billed as a battle of U.S. star forwards Taylor Twellman of New England and Brian Ching of Houston. And on that note, the hype was warranted as both players contributed to a game that didn’t truly become a classic until after the end of a scoreless regulation session.

But that extra time certainly made up for the scoring drought prior. With sudden death rules having been eliminated, the teams played two 15-minute periods of continuous overtime in which they managed the unlikely feat of each scoring once.

New England appeared poised to claim its first title when Twellman drove a left-footed shot past Houston keeper Pat Onstad in the 113th minute. But then, on the ensuing possession after the kickoff, Ching headed in a cross to tie the game less than a minute later.

The stunning turn of events sent the capacity, pro-Dynamo crowd of 22,427 fans at Pizza Hut Stadium in Frisco, Tex. into a frenzy. When the second overtime expired six minutes later, the game became the first MLS Cup final to be decided by penalty kicks.

Ching would give Houston a 4-3 lead in the fifth round of kicks and then Dynamo keeper Onstad stopped a low attempt by Jay Heaps right on the goal line to deliver the victory.

Ching was named the game’s MVP.

Houston would repeat its championship the following season, again beating New England.

  1. Real Salt Lake 1, L.A. Galaxy 1 (Real Salt Lake wins 5-4 in penalty kicks) – Nov. 22, 2009

The L.A. Galaxy had put together a star-studded lineup led by Landon Donovan and David Beckham that tied for the league’s best regular season record at 12-6-12 and in future years became arguably the best MLS dynasty since D.C. United in the 1990s. But they were upended by underdog Real Salt Lake in a thrilling final played in front of 46,011 fans at what was then known as Qwest Field here in Seattle.

The game was significant for several reasons; one being the crowd was the first to exceed 45,000 in an MLS Cup final since 2002. The other was the odds-defying performance by Real Salt Lake, which had finished fifth in the Western Conference with an 11-12-7 record but rallied during the post-season to make an unlikely finals appearance.

The teams battled to a 1-1 draw through regulation and things stayed scoreless in overtime. Then, the first eight tries by both teams in the penalty kick round entered the net to leave that session tied 4-4.

Galaxy striker Edson Buddle then took the ninth attempt with a low shot that keeper Nick Rimando batted away. That left Salt Lake defender Robbie Russell with a chance to win it and he took advantage, burying his attempt just inside the right post as keeper Donovan Ricketts dove the opposite way to his left

Russell dropped to his knees and pumped his fists in celebration as his teammates piled atop him, celebrating the first-ever MLS championship for Real Salt Lake.

The core of that losing Galaxy side would go on to capture three MLS Cup titles in four years in 2011, 2012 and 2014. But to this day, MLS diehards insist the dynasty truly began that day in Seattle seven years ago when an upstart, sub-.500 Real Salt Lake crew got the better of them.

  1. San Jose Earthquakes 4, Chicago Fire 2 – Nov. 23, 2003

The first MLS Cup final between the two previous champions lived up to the advance billing, with the highest scoring championship clash in league history. A crowd of 27,000 at the Home Depot Center in Carson City, Calif. watched San Jose carry a 2-0 lead into halftime.

But the second half began with a flurry, as the two sides combined for three goals in the opening nine minutes. Chicago scored two of those, including one in the 54th minute to cut San Jose’s lead to 3-2. The Fire kept swarming the San Jose goal and were rewarded a minute later when Damani Ralph was taken down in the box – resulting in a penalty kick.

Chicago elected to have scoring star Ante Razov, one of the top goal-scorers in MLS history, take the shot.

“We were getting at ‘em pretty good,” Fire manager Dave Sarachan would say later. “We got that penalty and I remember talking to DaMarcus Beasley on the sideline talking over what we were going to do after Ante scores. We’re thinking he’s going to make it and we’re going to win.”

But San Jose keeper Pat Onstad foiled those plans, guessing correctly by diving to his right and stopping the shot. The Earthquakes managed to stave off further Chicago pressure and then Landon Donovan put things away in the 71st minute with his second goal of the game.

Donovan would be named the game’s MVP, but Onstad’s save is widely viewed as its turning point. The Canadian’s three MLS Cup victories – he notched two more with the Houston Dynamo in 2006 and 2007 – are the most by any keeper in league history.

  1. Los Angeles Galaxy 1, New England Revolution 0 (OT) – Oct. 20, 2002

The tension had been building for more than 112 minutes inside Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. as a record crowd of 61,316 fans hoped for the hometown New England Revolution to break through against the L.A. Galaxy. New England had managed to clinch the Eastern Conference title that year despite a sub-.500 record of 12-14-2.

L.A. had captured the Western Conference with a 16-9-3 mark, but had been beaten in three prior MLS Cup finals prior to that point. The game was a defensive struggle for much of the first half, with few true scoring opportunities.

Things got increasingly physical as the match wore on, with 31 fouls committed in the first half alone. But the offenses got going in the second half, as leading MLS scorer Carlos Ruiz of the Galaxy broke in alone behind two defenders only to have his shot deflected wide at the last second.

The game remained scoreless and headed into sudden death overtime, where Guatemalan striker Ruiz twice nearly won it with shots from close in. Both teams had their chances in that scoreless first 15-minute overtime session, but it would be Ruiz ending it midway through the second extra period with a deft tap in from the lip of the crease past goalkeeper Aldin Brown (now the goalkeeping coach for the Portland Timbers).

Ruiz dropped to his knees and raised his head and hands to the skies, tears of joy in his eyes as teammates leaped atop him in celebration. The home crowd looked on stunned, having seen the Revolution suffer the first of what would become three consecutive losses in the league championship game.

Ruiz was the game’s MVP.

To date, the Revolution are 0-5 in MLS Cup finals, earning them the nickname “Buffalo Bills of MLS’’ in reference to that NFL team losing four consecutive Super Bowls in the 1990s.

  1.  D.C. United 3, Los Angeles Galaxy 2 (OT) – Oct. 20, 1996

Arguably the most thrilling MLS Cup final ever was the very first one, played on a sopping wet, muddy field in pelting rain at Foxboro Stadium in Massachusetts. D.C. United would launch the league’s first dynasty, overcoming a 2-0 deficit in the final 17 minutes of regulation play and defeating the L.A. Galaxy on a sudden death overtime goal by Eddie Pope.

The Galaxy took a 2-0 lead and appeared to be cruising before Marco “El Diablo” Etcheverry floated a corner kick into the box and Tony Sanneh headed it in for United’s first goal in the 73rd minute. Shawn Medved, who had entered the match as a substitute in the 70th minute, then headed in the equalizer with just under eight minutes remaining.

In the overtime Etcheverry came up huge again with another corner kick floater that Pope headed in powerfully from six yards away at the 3:25 mark to provide the sudden death victory. Pope celebrated with a belly slide along the water-logged field towards his team’s bench, where United players mobbed him in celebration.

D.C. United would repeat as champions the following year and eventually play in the first four MLS Cup finals, winning three.

Etcheverry was named the 1996 game’s MVP.

There had been 42,368 tickets sold for the game and an announced crowd of 34,643 actually turned out, braving the steady, game-long downpour.

“Soccer fever is alive in the United States and it’s going to stay,” said D.C. United captain John Harkes. ”Before the game, the players were thinking about 14,000 or 15,000 would show up in this weather, but this was unbelievable.”