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REVOLUTION 1, FIRE 0

Revolution celebrate flag day

Conference banner theirs after close call at the end

FOXBOROUGH -- The Revolution usually have been victorious with an aesthetically-pleasing style of play this season. But they showed they could win ugly yesterday, battling and scrapping, defending and deflecting, holding the lead for the final 86 minutes of a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Fire in Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference championship game.

This was the Revolution's fourth successive appearance in the conference final; they will meet the Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS Cup, a rematch of the 2002 final, Sunday afternoon in Frisco, Texas.

Though the Revolution displayed resourcefulness and defensive cohesiveness, they were uninspired offensively after the opening minutes, failing to retain possession or attack coherently. It appeared their flaws would be costly when Chicago put the ball in the net in second-half stoppage time, but an offside call disallowed the apparent tying goal.

''Last week, there were four goals scored [in the second half of a 3-1 win over the MetroStars]," said midfielder Clint Dempsey, who got the final touch after a free kick for a fourth-minute goal. ''Things can be hot and cold, up and down, but that's the beauty of the game.

''We needed to do a better job with possession. That's why we were on our heels in the second half. But it was one of those games where we just felt like we were going to win. They lacked conviction and things weren't going right for them, plus we had some luck on our side."

By winning the regular-season conference title, the Revolution earned the home-field advantage in the playoffs, an advantage that did not kick in until the conference championship match.

The Revolution, though, were certainly in an inspired mood in the early-going, and their alter play produced the goal. Taylor Twellman, who absorbed many of the Fire's 28 fouls, earned a free kick about 30 yards out in the fourth minute. With the Fire out of position, and slow to recover, Daniel Hernandez executed the kick quickly, finding Shalrie Joseph running into the right side of the penalty area. Joseph's slow-roller beat advancing goalkeeper Zach Thornton, Dempsey sliding into the ball at the far post for his first playoff score.

After Dempsey's goal, the Revolution intensified the pressure on the Fire defense, but failed to break through. After Hernandez's 24th-minute blast sailed toward the ''Fort" beyond the goal at the north end of Gillette Stadium, the Revolution failed to produce another clear opportunity.

''We weren't trying to hold the lead, we were trying to play," Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis said. ''And they were trying to get back at us. But in the second half, we were tired and we weren't moving into position to keep possession, and that allowed them to get on top of us. But we stayed organized and did what we needed to do."

The Fire, winless in nine successive visits to Gillette, believed they had tied the match after 90th minute, Gonzalo Segares finishing into an open net after a long ball from Thiago Gaucho. Linesman George Gansner correctly had raised the offside flag, and after several Fire players disputed the call, forward Andy Herron was ejected by referee Terry Vaughn, Chicago's fifth card in the final 17 minutes of play and sixth of the game. After the match, there was another altercation involving players, Thornton the most prominently involved.

''We were celebrating a little and they took it personally, and I don't know why," Joseph said. ''This game wasn't about soccer, it was about who wanted it the most. People were sliding all over the park. We wanted to have more possession in the second half but they defended well and we had to dig deep."

Chicago seldom threatened in the first half, but gave a preview of the second half in the 45th minute, Jack Stewart rolling a left-foot shot barely wide. Chad Barrett, who replaced Nate Jaqua [concussion] in the first half, had shots saved in the 63d and 64th minutes. By the final minutes, every Revolution player except Twellman had retreated into defense.

''From my angle I had no chance to see if it was the correct call," Chicago coach Dave Sarachan said of the disallowed goal. ''It was frustrating because we were battling and battling for every opportunity to get back in the game."

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