FOXBOROUGH - After several hard tackles, shoves, calls, and noncalls, Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Revolution and Chicago Fire ended in a 0-0 draw last night.
The result was satisfactory for the Revolution, who will meet Chicago in Round 2 of the two-game, aggregate-goals series next Thursday in Bridgeview, Ill.
It was anyone's guess how New England would fare after injuries and suspensions claimed some of the team's key players. This week, striker Taylor Twellman was ruled out indefinitely because of concussion-related symptoms. Red-card suspensions kept defender Gabriel Badilla and midfielder Khano Smith out of the lineup.
Despite it all, the Revolution managed to shut out a team that ended the regular season fourth in Major League Soccer in goals per game (1.47). It was the Revolution's first shutout since they beat Chivas USA, 4-0, Sept. 11. The Revolution are winless since that game (0-4-3).
"It was good for us," Revolution defender Jay Heaps said. "We didn't know exactly what we were going to do tonight, except that we were going to come out and play with some heart. I think we're going to Chicago with some confidence, but having said that, they're going to have some confidence, too, because they came in and did what they wanted to do. For us, we had to take baby steps, and I think we did well."
The Fire swept the Revolution during the regular season, outscoring them, 9-1, in three matches. The Fire took advantage of the Revolution's second-half slump to move into second place in the Eastern Conference and capture home-field advantage in the first round. The teams are facing each other in the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven seasons. The Revolution have advanced four times in the past five meetings, including the last three.
But this season the Revolution are without their three leading scorers: Twellman, midfielder Steve Ralston (broken right fibula), and Adam Cristman (toe surgery).
Fire coach Denis Hamlett said his team didn't feel it had an advantage.
"We knew that they were going to put a competitive team on the field," Hamlett said. "They won SuperLiga with some guys missing. They're still the defending Eastern Conference champions, so we knew that this was going to be a hard game. We didn't come in here thinking that they're missing all these guys and it's going to be an easy game, because I think if we did that, we would have just set ourselves up for failure."
The Revolution's best chance came in the final minutes. Midfielder Sainey Nyassi sprinted along the right side and fed forward Kenny Mansally at the near post. Mansally's shot was blocked and Fire midfielder Justin Mapp cleared the ball.
In the 76th minute, Mapp's cross found forward Brian McBride in front of the goal. McBride's header reached the back of the net, but he was ruled offside.
Matt Reis made five saves for the Revolution. Chicago's Jon Busch stopped four shots.
The Revolution were active in the first half, outshooting Chicago, 8-3. One of their better opportunities occurred in the 38th minute, when Chris Tierney's header found Dube about 20 yards from the goal. Dube stopped the ball with his chest, then swung around for a shot that sailed over the goal.
Revolution coach Steve Nicol thought his team deserved a win but was pleased with its progress.
"We finished the season overthinking when we were playing, basically," Nicol said. "We decided to get rid of that and just go out and play - be committed. When you get a chance to pass the ball, pass the ball. When you have to be strong, be strong. We did that."