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Franchino: Revolution's time is now

FOXBOROUGH -- Joe Franchino has played for the team with the best record in Major League Soccer history (1998 Los Angeles Galaxy), a US Open Cup finalist (2001 Revolution), and three MLS Cup finalists ('99 Galaxy, 2002 and '05 Revolution). Now Franchino is a game away from another final, and he believes this is the Revolution's time to win a title.

"That's our ultimate goal," Franchino said after practice yesterday. "We have lost, 1-0, in two finals because we haven't been able to finish. It's all great to be able to say we get there, but we're going to win one, and I think this is the year."

The Revolution will visit D.C. United at 4 p.m. Sunday for their fifth straight appearance in the Eastern Conference final. The Revolution won the title in 2002 (3-2 aggregate score over three games with Columbus) and '05 (1-0 win over Chicago), and lost in '03 (1-0 in overtime at Chicago) and '04 (on penalties after a 3-3 tie at D.C.) .

Franchino played a major part in the Revolution's 2-1 win over the Fire last Saturday, helping to set up both goals and sending a laser beam cross to the back post for Taylor Twellman to head off the post. Franchino, who began his career as a defensive midfielder and left back, also was going past multiple opponents on the dribble and setting up opportunities at the end line.

Franchino has been the Revolution's starting left winger, but also returned to a holding midfield role when Shalrie Joseph was injured.

"I am not going to race by people off the dribble, but I can get behind the defense and whip in early balls," Franchino said. "I will play anywhere in the midfield, the midfield is my specialty, especially in a 3-5-2.

"It was fun being able to help out the team. We said before [last Saturday's] game we were going to leave it all on the field, and that's what we did."

When Steve Nicol became Revolution coach early in the 2002 season, he used Franchino at left back in a 4-4-2 alignment, and designated Franchino as captain.

"He is somebody, if it's a war, you want standing beside you," Nicol said. "The other players feed off his strength and his character, and he has ability, as well. He played well, absolutely [against Chicago]. But he was playing well before and was overlooked.

"He gets balls in the box and he is good on the defensive side. Out-and-out wingers are usually dancing on the ball but not as strong defensively. But he gives you more of a balance."

Franchino played in central midfield in place of Joseph for the Revolution's last visit to United, a 2-1 New England win Oct. 7, as the team presented a 4-4-2 formation. Joseph will be available, but the Revolution could be without Clint Dempsey (right ankle sprain).

"It is a great atmosphere in D.C. and we have a great rivalry," Franchino said, "because both teams go forward and play attacking soccer. It's fun to watch."

Andy Dorman (hamstring), Steve Ralston (calf), and Franchino (hamstring) trained briefly and are likely starters, Nicol said. "We would love to have [Dempsey], but training was real sharp and we have 20-odd guys who are desperate to play," Nicol said . . . According to the Associated Press, MLS fined Nicol $2,000 for criticizing officials.

Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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