FOXBOROUGH -- Most Major League Soccer teams have announced playoff dates and are spending the final weeks of the regular season planning and promoting.
The four teams (the Revolution, Chicago Fire, Dallas Burn, and San Jose Earthquakes) contending for the final two playoff berths do not have that luxury.
The Revolution are once again involved in a dramatic, come-from-behind situation. The fact that they must win at least one of their final two matches creates tension and uncertainty. But the Revolution do have a margin for error -- they could be routed by D.C. United at RFK Stadium tonight, then slip into the playoffs by defeating Chicago at Gillette Stadium next week.
"History is repeating itself again," Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis said. "One thing that gives us confidence is that, if you look at the results over the year, we haven't been off by much. We haven't been blown out by any team.
"Maybe that's what it takes for motivation for this team, to have our backs against the wall and have to fight out of it. I hope that's not true.
"Ideally, you have a nice, comfortable lead going into the playoffs and you are able to give some players a game off in the last couple of months."
Reis has started 15 successive matches since replacing Adin Brown for the second half of a 2-1 win over the MetroStars June 26. Brown (concussion) was eventually declared out for the season.
"Goalkeepers are stylistically different," Reis said. "There are things I do well that Adin doesn't and things Adin does well that I don't. I am not going to be Adin but I have been given the chance and shown I can lead the team. It is important for the team to know that if there are mistakes or slipups, that the goalkeeper is there to save them.
"It's the same in any sport with a goalkeeper, and you see it especially in hockey -- the team with the hottest goaltender usually wins the championship. Soccer is the exact same way. You can be the hero or the goat in this position. You can make great saves, but make one blunder. The backup is always the best player on the team because no one really knows how good he is. You can only guess how he would play."
Reis was expected to be a reserve behind Brown, who is considered the most marketable goalkeeping prospect in the league, with the classic physical stature and reflexes of a top European goalkeeper. Reis, though, aggressively cuts down angles, reads the game and anticipates well, and his foot skills add a dimension of fluidity to the position, allowing him to perform as a sweeper at times.
The Revolution's 2-0 win over Dallas last week was Reis's third shutout in nine games. The Revolution have surrendered more than two goals only once since June 19 and have not given up more than three goals since a 4-2 loss to D.C. United July 27, 2003.
Though the Revolution have been mostly unimpressive and uninspiring this season, they are in position to approach the exploits of the last two years. If the Revolution defeat D.C. United, they would need at least a tie with Chicago to overtake the Fire. There could be a temptation to conserve energy and player availability for the final game. Left back Marshall Leonard, for instance, is one yellow card away from a suspension, so he could be held in reserve.
"The only way to approach it is to go and win the game," Revolution coach Steve Nicol said. "If you try and be too clever, you end up tripping yourself up. The real simple matter is that if we win against Chicago, we're through [to the playoffs]."