Pat Onstad after stopping the final penalty kick attempt
For the first time ever, the MLS Cup Final matched teams which did not win their respective conferences in the regular season. In every final since the inaugural season of 1996, at least one of the teams led its division after the regular-season campaign. On three occasions, the MLS Cup matched two conference regular-season winners (1999, D.C. United vs. Los Angeles Galaxy; 2000, Kansas City Wizards vs Chicago Fire; 2003, San Jose Earthquakes vs. Chicago Fire).
Houston and New England were separated by just two points during the regular season. The Revolution finished with 12 wins, 8 losses, and 12 draws for 48 points. Houston went 11-8-13 for 46 points. It was the narrowest margin between the finalists since 2003, when the Chicago Fire and San Jose Earthquakes were just two points apart in their regular season records. In addition to their similar point totals, the teams finished with identical goal differentials (+4) and both finished 8-3-5 at home.
The teams also split their two regular-season meetings, playing to a pair of 1-1 draws. On May 27 at Gillette Stadium, Steve Ralston put the Revolution ahead with a 55th-minute goal, but a Ryan Cochrane goal five minutes from the end gave the Dynamo the equalizer. On July 22 at Robertson Stadium, an own goal gave New England the lead in the 60th minute, but Stuart Holden pulled Houston level again just three minutes later.
This was the first time since 1996 that both MLS Cup finalists lost their opening game in the playoffs and recovered to claim a spot in the title game. That year, D.C. United lost in a shootout in the opening game of the playoffs before recovering to win the inaugural championship match; their opponents, the Los Angeles Galaxy, lost to the San Jose Earthquakes in their first postseason game.
In the first round of the 2006 playoffs, the biggest upset came in the Western Conference, where the Colorado Rapids upset top-seeded FC Dallas on the road for the second straight year, again winning in a shootout. In the other Western Conference semifinal, Houston trailed Chivas USA 2-0 in the first leg but recovered to lose 2-1, despite missing a penalty kick, and win 2-0 at home to advance.
In the Eastern Conference, D.C. United needed a late goal to escape with a 1-1 home draw in the second leg against New York Red Bulls, winning 2-1 on aggregate. New England rallied from a 2-0 aggregate deficit in the second leg to force penalty kicks against Chicago, winning the shootout to advance.
In the conference finals, New England used an early Taylor Twellman goal to knock off the MLS Supporters' Shield winners and qualify for its third title game in five years. Houston recovered from an early penalty kick behind two goals from Paul Dalglish for a 3-1 win over Colorado, reaching the championship in its first year in Houston.