Boston is a city that is full of celebration and history, especially in regards to its relationship with sports. Fenway Park is one of the nation’s most recognizable ballparks, the Boston Marathon is a phenomenal exhibit of endurance and pride, and Beantown’s four major sports teams have brought nine championships to the city since 2000.
With that type of resumé, it is no surprise to learn that the city is also home to some of the country’s most passionate fans who walk a fair line between divine regard and professional respect when talking about their athletes and beloved teams. To put it simply, sports are not just a recreational activity in Boston, but a way of life.
The Boston Red Sox, Boston Bruins, Boston Celtics, and New England Patriots form a four-headed religion to which fans ardently commit themselves with lifelong passion. However, missing from that picture is the world’s most popular game and, in turn, the city’s soccer team: the New England Revolution. Many people would say it is because the Revs have never delivered when a trophy is on the line, but they would be omitting the night of October 3, 2007.
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The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is the oldest cup competition in America and dates back to 1914. Just like England’s famed F.A. Cup or Italy’s renowned Coppa Italia, the Open Cup provides amateur and professional teams alike with the opportunity of becoming domestic champions.
The tournament runs during the same months as the league season, operates on a single-elimination format, pits David versus Goliath, and welcomes raucous crowds seething for silverware.
In the 2007 version of the Open Cup, the Revs entered the field in the third round, just as every other Major League Soccer team did. They were matched up against the Rochester Raging Rhinos, who were a part of the lower USL-1 division, and easily dispatched them 4-2.
The victory placed the Revs into the quarterfinal round of the historic competition where they were then set to face off against the Harrisburg City Islanders of USL-2, which was at the time the third tier of professional soccer in America. Although the City Islanders presented stiffer competition, the Revs escaped as 2-1 victors and earned a place in the semi-final round of the tournament.
Needing just one win for the chance to vie for the Dewar Challenge Trophy, the Revs got matched up against another USL-1 side. This time the Carolina Railhawks stood in New England’s way and the lower-division outfit truly pushed their opponents to the brink. A 2-1 victory in extra-time was eked out by New England, though, and the Revs were on the brink of bringing their first major trophy back to Boston. All that stood in their way was a final match-up away to FC Dallas.
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Few teams have had the success in Major League Soccer that the Revs have had. The organization boasts eight winning seasons, has had national team stars don their red, white, and blue jersey, and is a perennial contender in the Eastern Conference. Despite all of those plaudits, the Revs are also often regarded as the league’s most unfortunate team.
They made it to the Eastern Conference Final every year between 2002 and 2007 and advanced to MLS Cup in four of those years. Yet, the team has never been able to capture the ever-elusive Philip F. Anschutz Trophy. In 2002, 2005, 2006, and 2007 they put together inspired performances, only to fall short of promise and miss out on silverware by one fateful play falling in the other team’s direction.
"I don’t know how to describe the Revs losing four finals in six years except for flat out unlucky," said Wells Thompson, who played with the Revs from 2007 to 2009. "The club has had great coaches and New England had a core group of guys that stuck together until the final whistle sounded and that fought for each other."
As Thompson described, the Revs have never had a positive relationship with Lady Luck. Yet, they developed a bond of camaraderie and familiarity throughout that six year span that led to an unwavering belief that a trophy soon would come their way.
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Matt Reis in goal. James Riley, Michael Parkhurst, and Jay Heaps in defense. Andy Dorman, Jeff Larentowicz, Khano Smith, Thompson, and Steve Ralston in midfield. Taylor Twellman and Pat Noonan up top. That was the starting lineup when the Revs took on FC Dallas on October 3, 2007. Eleven players who have etched out careers in MLS through their industry and ability to come together as a unit and complete the task at hand no matter what sacrifice had to be made.
The group had been together for several seasons and endured adversity through their MLS Cup losses and several other ups and downs. Regardless of those struggles, the Revs’ competitive nature and cohesion shone through time and time again. It didn’t matter if the impending obstacle was winning an intra-squad scrimmage in practice or defending a corner in the 90th minute of an MLS match - the Revs did not want to lose.
"One thing that sticks out about that ’07 New England squad is that everyone was a competitor," Thompson said. "They generally hated to lose more than they enjoyed winning. Practices were heated in the sense that guys would get into it and every time time we stepped onto the field it was a competition. We competed day in and day out and were professional about it."
That will to compete pushed the Revs along as a team in many ways, particularly in terms of every man’s willingness to battle for each man donning the same crest. All that mattered was getting the maximum amount of points available and doing whatever was necessary to get the job done.
"It was a great group of guys who worked hard for the team, everyone knew their roles, and everyone supported each other," Khano Smith said. "We all didn’t hang out off the field, but we all came together when three points were on the line."
With bonds like that on the 2007 Revs team, there was an undeniable sentiment of belief. Belief that 2007 could be the year that a major trophy came to New England at last. All that stood in their way was ninety minutes against Dallas.
"No reason to sugarcoat it," Twellman said. "We needed to win and many of us felt  was our best team and after we won we just kinda knew MLS Cup was next."
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Dallas was no lower division side, though. The team had won the Open Cup competition back in 1997 and was continually in playoff contention, regardless of who donned their red and white hooped uniforms. Every player from their goaltender all the way up to their striker was a quality player who could punish the Revs if the opportunity arose.
One player to watch out for in particular was Juan Toja, who had the verve and creativity to carve out chances at will. In addition to Toja, Dallas had a strong American contingent of Clarence Goodson, Dax McCarty, Drew Moor, and Kenny Cooper - all of whom went on to feature for the US Men’s National Team with varying success later in their careers.
"We knew that Dallas had players who deserved respect and we gave them some," Smith said. "Juan Toja was one of the best players in the league back then, so we kept an eye out for him. And then too guys like Clarence, Kenny, and Dax were up and coming guys with national team potential. We had to be at our best for sure to beat that team."
If the aforementioned quintet wasn’t enough to cause New England worry, Steve Morrow, who was Dallas’ coach, had plenty of attacking options at his disposal. He could hit New England with clever runs from Carlos "El Pescadito" Ruiz, the blazing pace of Dominic Oduro, or the nifty feet of Arturo Alvarez. There would certainly be danger at hand no matter who was on the finishing end of Dallas’ attacks.
"Dallas had a very good team with multiple attacking options," said Michael Parkhurst, who played center-back in the Revs’ 3-5-2 formation. "Ruiz was always one of the most difficult players in MLS to play against. He always worked hard, used his body very well and scored good goals. They also had speed with Oduro and another extremely skillful attacker in Alvarez. We had our hands full defensively."
Despite Dallas’ unique blend of veteran guile, youthful exuberance, and overall talent, the greatest challenge facing the Revs was that they would have to go on the road to become champions of the 94th Open Cup. Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas was set to be the venue and that within itself was a problem.
Pizza Hut Park, to put it lightly, had not treated the Revs well in past years. It was the site of the Revs’ 2005 and 2006 MLS Cup defeats and lingering demons would have to be conquered for the Revs to lift the trophy.
"It’s always difficult to play on the road [in] any game, nonetheless a final," said Ralston, who captained the side on the day. "It also happened to be in the same stadium where we had lost the last two MLS Cup finals, which added pressure."
Add in the fact that Dallas was a sweltering 84 degrees that evening and 10,618 fans were making it their sole mission to jeer the Revs, and it seemed highly plausible that New England could leave Pizza Hut Park empty handed yet again. Head Coach Steve Nicol and his right-hand man, Paul Mariner, had other ideas, though.
The English coaching duo had been leading New England into battle since 2004 and understood that a precise team performance that was interspersed with moments of individual brilliance would be the recipe for success against Dallas. Nicol and Mariner also were aware that their team’s experience would ultimately quell any existing nerves, as long as they stuck to their bread and butter style of passing well, outworking the opponent, and finishing chances when they arose.
However, as much as those intangibles mattered, Nicol expressed to his team that the mental approach was just as important. If everyone was tuned in from the moment the ball was first kicked until the referee whistled for the end of the match, victory would always be within reach.
"Our mental state was very strong," said Nicol. "We knew if we played to our capabilities we were better than them."
Jeff Larentowicz, who partnered next to Andy Dorman in the center of midfield and embodies industry rather than passion, still to this day echoes his coach’s sentiments.
"Well, one thing I always say about the Revs teams back then is that every time you walked on the field you probably had twenty guys who all thought that they were the best player on the team if you asked them," he said. "That’s the confidence that the guys had, the cockiness and the arrogance to a certain extent that the players had. It worked for us, it worked with Steve and Paul as our coaches because they had the same confidence, and we got it done when it mattered."
Confidence is all well and good, but the performance needed to back up the talk.
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Dallas got the proceedings started and little was in the offering for the first 20 minutes. And then the 21st minute rolled around.
Heaps sprung an entry pass from his own half up towards Ralston, who made a poor touch and could not corral the searching ball. The mistake, rather than plaguing Ralston, turned into great fortune.
He took advantage of a dazed Dallas back-line, strode towards the end-line uncontested, and lofted a cross towards the near post for Taylor Twellman to finish. However, Twellman, who finished his Revs’ career with 101 goals, could only flick his header towards an unmarked Pat Noonan at the back post.
An empty net presented itself for Noonan and consequently an easier finish than he likely expected. Just like that, the Revs were in the drivers seat and up 1-0.
"It was pretty early on in the game and it came from the right flank, was deflected, and I happened to be on the back post to redirect it in," said Noonan. "It wasn’t the prettiest of goals, but getting off to an early lead helped loosen us up and open the game a little bit."
While Dallas was slightly deterred by conceding first, they would quickly come back with a bang.
Play was switched out to the left touch-line for Alvarez, who then sharply burst into the heart of the Revs’ defense. A long touch brought him onto the edge of the 18-yard box and he fired a shot with the outside of his left foot.
It seemed to be going wide, but it continued to bend past Matt Reis and into the far side netting. A wondrous strike had just tied things up at 1-1 in the 30th minute.
"It was a great goal from a special player," James Riley said. "We didn’t feel too down from it though and were determined to keep on carving out chances."
As the first half wore on, the Revs kept to the game-plan Nicol and Mariner outlined. They continued to apply pressure and push for a goal and their efforts were rewarded again in the 41st minute.
Ralston hit an out-swinging corner kick from the right, Noonan beat his marker and glanced a header towards the back post for a poaching Twellman to slam home into an empty net. Tic-tac-toe. 2-1 Revs going into halftime.
"I do remember telling Noonan to switch our runs on that corner and ironically the ball fell to me back post for easy tap in," Twellman said. "Noonan and I still laugh about that play."
The momentum was in the Revs’ favor and one half of soccer stood between them and the club’s first every trophy.
"Goals right before halftime can be momentum swings and getting a goal right before half was a big part of us having some success," Noonan said. "It really helped boost our confidence as a group."
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As eventful as the first half was, little did the Revs or Dallas know at the time that much was in store for the remaining 45 minutes. Before the 48th minute, two promising opportunities went awry. "El Pescadito" snapped a header inches wide of the near post and Twellman agonizingly dragged a shot wide of the frame after being sprung in on goal by Noonan.
But the Revs strike partnership would get another chance and this time they didn’t let it go to waste. Twellman and Noonan began a two-on-one counter-attack towards Dario Sala’s goal. The front runners interchanged several passes before a misplaced attempt sent Twellman out towards the left corner flag.
From there, he sprayed a low fizzing cross towards Noonan at the near post, who surprisingly laid the ball off towards the penalty spot instead of shooting. He had spotted the run of Wells Thompson and the Wake University product made no mistake. The right midfielder slotted the ball into the back of the net with his left foot in the 58th minute.
A one goal lead was now extended to two. 3-1 Revs.
"It was one of those things where I was in the right place at the right time and I capitalized on it," Thompson said. "The opportunity sprung to me and I was lucky enough to convert it. Afterwards it was pure chaos. I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off and ran away from my teammates before they caught me."
With an insurance tally secured and just over thirty minutes plus stoppage time left to play, the Revs had their hands full. A two goal cushion was plenty to be content about, but Dallas surely was not going to wilt on their home field. And they surely did not.
Dallas began to press New England’s back-line immediately following the goal and their efforts got rewarded in the 64th minute. Right back Adrian Serioux sent in a whipping cross towards the back post in search of Clarence Goodson’s towering frame.
Although contested heavily, Goodson won the header and directed the ball back across frame towards Abe Thompson, who had just entered the contest a minute earlier. Thompson made no mistake and rifled home past Reis. Just like that a two goal lead was cut down to one. 3-2 Revs.
Spurred by a quick-fire goal of their own, Dallas continued to heap on the pressure. Promising chances fell to their skilled attackers and Morrow demonstrated his eagerness for the trophy when he ultimately placed five forwards on the field.
Balls were pumped forward into the box, Dallas made runs from every which angle they could imagine, shots were hurtled towards goal, and desperation mode began to slowly seep in. Despite all of that, the Revs were committed to the task at hand and knew that order would win out over last-ditched efforts.
"It was a testament to our team that in the chaos and the mayhem we were able to find calm," James Riley said. "We had a vocal presence in Matt Reis who was there organizing, so that helped us a lot. He took pressure off our team in terms of catching crosses and he was really good with his feet too. Guys stepped up and were willing to gut it out."
As taxing as it was, that was exactly what New England did. Deep into stoppage time, Dorman collected a clearance and dribbled towards midfield. The clock slowly ticked into the 95th minute and then referee Alex Prus let out a long, hard whistle to signal the end of the contest. As the whistle’s shriek faded away into the Dallas night, the Revs’ dreams of earning of a trophy became reality and Pizza Hut Park filled with roars of joy from Revolution players and fans.
In that moment, years of frustration evaporated and every ounce of pain, suffering, togetherness, and commitment had finally payed off. Instead of there being relief that a trophy had finally came, fist pumps and the thrill of being champions encompassed the club.
The trophy curse had finally been lifted and New England would be on the winner’s stand, raising the cup in triumph instead of watching the celebrations as dejected bystanders. What was once perceived as unobtainable was achieved at last.
"The thing that stands out most is the presentation on stage after the game," Ralston said. "I was lucky to have been captain that day and had the privilege of receiving and lifting the trophy with my teammates. Also, the celebration in the locker room after the game. [We were] drinking champagne with great friends and being champions."
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Every team in any sport aspires to win trophies. They will players to leave their all on the field, sacrifice for their organization, and keep a level-headed approach through adversity. The pursuit of a trophy brings teammates together, keeps supporters believing that success is possible, and owners investing in the dream of raising silverware.
However, the flip-side is that trophies are damned hard to come by. The Revs know this better than anyone in MLS, losing five MLS Cup finals and always seeming to fall inches short of their ultimate goal. So, while not the more coveted league title, the 2007 Open Cup victory signified the moment when the Revs had finally gotten over the proverbial hump.
"Silverware was always my goal [and] the pressure was from within," Nicol said. "It is important that everyone got rewarded for all the work they had put in, [including] players, coaches, backroom staff, and of course the Kraft family."
The club’s first trophy extended beyond something that would sit in a trophy case, though. It signaled the moment when the Revs firmly etched themselves in the competitive Boston sports market. They were no longer a peripheral team who could not deliver when it counted the most, but a team that could say it fought to the wire and emerged as champions.
"Boston is just a wonderful wonderful sports city and it is definitely an honor to have brought a trophy back," Riley said. "It’s something that is brewed in Boston where you’re expected to be in the talk of title games and play to a certain level, and we lived up to that in 2007."
Most importantly of all though, the Revs 2007 Open Cup victory instilled a winning environment at the club that still lingers to this day and sparked a flame that is yet to turn into dying embers. Since lifting the Dewar Challenge Trophy, the Revs have made it to the final of two MLS Cups, won two Eastern Conference trophies, and captured a North American SuperLiga title.
There is an infectious desire at the club to always be around title matches and live up to the lofty expectations that come with being a Boston sports team. Also, the current Revs team seems primed to make another run towards silverware and they can largely thank the hard work of the 2007 Open Cup winning side for the environment it bred.
"The trophy brought a certain aura and vibe to the club and I feel for certain that that vibe is starting to come back to the team," Smith said. "They want to get back there and are confident that they can. They expect to be in those types of places and they have the talent and drive we did back then."
Whether or not the Revs capture another trophy in the near future remains to be seen, but a seed was planted on October 3, 2007 that is continually blossoming before our eyes.
The trophy may have came eight years ago, but we know you still have memories of the victory. Were you there or watching on TV? Do you have a favorite player from that team? A moment from the final stick out? Share your thoughts below!