FOXBOROUGH - The last two regular-season matches, including tonight at D.C. United, will be like a dress rehearsal for the Revolution. The postseason is around the corner and the Revolution have a little less than two weeks to adjust to life without midfielder Steve Ralston, who is out with a broken right fibula suffered in last Saturday's 1-0 loss to Kansas City.
Ralston's career-high eight goals and seven assists lead the team this season. The Revolution have clinched one of eight postseason spots and are vying to grab second place away from the Chicago Fire for home field in the second match of the first-round aggregate goal series.
While the standings give the Revolution a tangible goal, finding a way to rebound from a stretch of broken performances and the loss of Ralston adds to the challenge.
"We've been in this situation before, and we've come out on the right end before," said Revolution coach Steve Nicol.
The Revolution entered the 2003 playoffs without striker Taylor Twellman, who was out with a broken foot. He had led the MLS in points and goals per game that season and was the team's MVP. The Revolution advanced to the Eastern Conference final, losing to Chicago, 1-0, in overtime.
In 2006, the Revolution were without midfielders Shalrie Joseph and Clint Dempsey at various points in the playoffs. Yet they reached the MLS Cup final, losing to the Houston Dynamo on penalty kicks.
The biggest question this season will be how the Revolution handle the formation from here on out. Ralston was the team's attacking midfielder in the 3-5-2, its primary formation. After he left the match against Kansas City in the 12th minute, Joseph moved to attacking midfield and Gabriel Badilla entered at defensive midfield.
The setup didn't move Nicol one way or another, he said.
"It wasn't horrible and it wasn't brilliant," Nicol said. "We just need to decide whether we think it might get better or whether we just leave it alone."
When Ralston was out earlier this season with a shoulder injury, Joseph moved to attacking midfield, at times not completely satisfied with his performance.
"It's not the best position, I think for me, because I can't see the ball and I can't get the ball as I would like it," Joseph said. "But right now we have to be ready to play wherever the coaches want us to play."
Goalkeeper Matt Reis said the formation doesn't matter to him.
"The formation is dictated by the players and you have to play to your strengths, and without Steve then the best chance we have to do well is in a 4-4-2," Reis said. "It really doesn't matter, you're just trying to give yourself a chance to win."
Ralston didn't start a league match eight times this season and the Revolution were 2-4-2. He was out with a shoulder injury in April and then again with back spasms from Aug. 30-Sept. 6.
The Revolution need offensive creators. Since Aug. 30, they have been held to one goal or fewer in four of seven league matches. They are 1-3-3 in that span.
Both D.C. United and the Revolution have struggled lately. United has been shut out in league matches three consecutive times entering tonight. Their last league goal came in a 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy Sept. 20. United is winless (0-4-2) in their last six league matches dating to Aug. 6.
Monique Walker can be reached at email@example.com