By Pat Martin, MLS Editor
Foxborough, MA (Sports Network) -
After the New England Revolution won the U.S. Open Cup title game at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas on Oct. 3, there had to be a sigh of relief coming from the team and its fans.
It was the Revs' fifth title game of any kind since 2001 - including three trips to the MLS Cup title match - and finally produced the first trophy for the franchise. Also, the site of the team's most recent league failures had been conquered. The past two seasons the Revs advanced to the MLS Cup title match, both played at Pizza Hut Park, and the past two seasons the Revs lost - once in overtime and once on penalty kicks.
"It was a great victory for us obviously," said forward Pat Noonan, who had a goal and two assists in the 3-2 win over FC Dallas. "We hadn't won a championship in the history of the organization. It was great to be part of that as a team. We fought hard and had a lot of great battles throughout the tournament and I thought we deserved to win it."
"We took this (U.S. Open Cup) tournament very serious this year," New England captain Steve Ralston said. "In previous years we didn't as much as this year. Anytime you can win a trophy and win a tournament, it's pretty special. You never know when you are going to get those opportunities. This is my 12th year in the league and its my first Open Cup championship, so it's pretty special."
Finally, a team that has been so close to a title so many times has something to show for its efforts. But while the Revs are savoring their Open Cup championship, it isn't the one they covet most. The current nucleus of players, one that has been together through the disappointment of past failures, has its sights set on the bigger prize - the MLS Cup.
"We hadn't won a championship in the history of the organization. It was great to be part of that as a team," said forward Pat Noonan.
"To be so close so many times and be on the short side of the stick so many times is frustrating because you feel like it wasn't meant to be, it will never happen," Revs defender Michael Parkhurst said. "These opportunities don't come very much in the sport. We want to take advantage of these championship runs when they come along. It was great to finally get someone like Steve Ralston his first trophy, but as satisfying as the U.S. Open Cup championship was, everybody wants to win the MLS Cup. That is the bigger of the two trophies and we are going to be gunning for it."
Parkhurst joined the team as the ninth pick in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft and went on to win Rookie of the Year that season. He is the latest pivotal piece of the puzzle to be added after Ralston and leading scorer Taylor Twellman in 2002, and Noonan, Matt Reis and Shalrie Joseph in 2003, among others.
"We have the same core group who have been through it, through thick and thin," Ralston said. "We have been to three (MLS Cup) finals. We have gotten to the championship game as a first-place team and as pretty much a last-place team until the final week of the season, so we know what it takes. We have a lot of experience."
Through most of its run of bitter disappointments in title games, current head coach Steve Nicol has been in charge. He took over the duty on an interim basis in 2002 for Fernando Clavijo, and after going 13-12-3 and leading the team to the MLS Cup title game - which it lost in extra time - he earned MLS Coach of the Year and was promoted to full-time head coach.
"I think (Nicol) has done a great job of keeping together a solid group of guys who have a lot of character," Ralston said. "He continues to bring in the right pieces. When we do lose somebody, they are doing a great job of brining in young talent."
With the pieces in place and everyone relatively healthy as the regular season winds down, the Revs are again on the short list of teams that have a legitimate shot at capturing the elusive league championship. The team is hoping that its first trophy is enough to push it over the top and past the other MLS elite this season.
"We are hoping that we can build on this and say, 'Listen, we have the experience, we know what it takes to win now and now we have to get over the hump,'" Ralston said. "We have been so close and now we feel like we are too good of a team to not have won the MLS Cup. We have been there so many times. We want to get it this time."
With the playoffs starting on Oct. 25 and climaxing with the MLS Cup title match on Nov. 18 at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C., the Revs know there is a long way to go. But with the experience of past successes and failures, the team is confident it can join D.C. United (1996), the Chicago Fire (1998) and the Los Angeles Galaxy (2005) as the only teams to hoist both the U.S. Open Cup and the MLS Cup in the same season.
"It takes a lot to make the playoffs and it takes even more to get all the way to the finals," Reis said. "Over the last couple years, we made it to the last game and unfortunately we didn't have that little bit of extra in the last game to pull it out...I think we definitely have the talent in this locker room to win an MLS championship. Unfortunately we haven't shown that in the past, but given a few more chances, I'm sure we could."
The Revs and their fans will breathe even easier if 2007 is the year.