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Too close for comfort

Revolution hope to unnerve Crew

FOXBOROUGH -- Winning is neither everything nor the only thing in soccer. Teams often play for a certain result. During the regular season, a tie away from home can be rewarding. In Major League Soccer's playoffs, goal differential will likely determine who advances in two-game series.

The Revolution and Columbus Crew, who meet in a first-round playoff match at 7:30 tonight at Gillette Stadium, played their four-game season series like postseason elimination matches. The Crew won, 1-0 and 2-1, and the teams tied, 1-1 and 2-2. There has been little margin for error in these confrontations and that margin could be reduced tonight and Oct. 31 at Columbus, Ohio.

In fact, the Revolution have not defeated the Crew at home in regulation time since July 4, 2002. But, in six matches at Gillette Stadium since, the Revolution have obtained acceptable results when necessary. The Revolution eliminated Columbus from the playoffs in 2002 with two home draws, then launched a drive to the playoffs with a 3-2 overtime victory last season. Since the Revolution's 4-1 win nearly 28 months ago, no Revolution-Crew match has been decided by more than a goal.

So, this series could be about who blinks first.

The Revolution have displayed a proficiency at this battle of nerves, winning three successive series of two or more games -- against Chicago and Columbus in 2002, and the MetroStars last season. They have been eliminated in single-elimination, overtime situations in the last three US Open Cup tournaments, plus the 2002 MLS Cup, and last year's Eastern Conference final.

Certainly, the Revolution have done nearly everything the hard way since their early days of existence in 1996. Maybe, this has sharpened their senses and galvanized the players into a group that reacts well to adversity.

"When I was playing in Los Angeles, we had done so well all season that it was almost panic time when we got to the playoffs," Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis said yesterday. "It was like we had to do something different than what we had been doing for four months. Things had been going so well for so long, it's hard to get that fight back. We don't give in to that mentality here, everyone is loose and we go into each game with the same attitude.

"It's all about attitude and battling on the field. The bigger the game, the ones we had to win, we battled hard and have shown we can be a very good team."

The Revolution have certainly increased their training intensity, a clash between Clint Dempsey and Pat Noonan nearly erupting into a fight in practice Thursday.

"It shows this means something to everybody, and people aren't willing to back down," Reis said. "You shake up the soda can and open it up against Columbus."

Columbus has been in playoff mode nearly the entire season, concluding the regular season with an 8-0-10 record. The Crew started the season 0-3-2, but have lost only twice since.

"We got here sneaking in the back door after struggling all season long, totally different than Columbus," Revolution midfielder Steve Ralston said. "But there is not much difference between the teams. They are a good team, and they are like the Patriots, finding ways to win games and not lose, scoring big goals when they need them.

"When the pressure is on us, we have won games when we had to. We let some games slip away but we get stronger as the season goes on, we have proven that. I don't like the fact that we barely got in the playoffs, but the fact that we are in is all that matters to us. Halfway through the season, we would have taken that chance."

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