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Approaching hostile territory

Revolution bracing for Chicago's fire

CHICAGO -- Among the most telling qualities of successful clubs in European and South American soccer is their ability to remain composed in adverse circumstances. The top players appear implacable in the face of enemy fan groups on the verge of mob violence and opponents motivated by forces that transcend the sport.

This confident, purposeful approach to the game is something coach Steve Nicol has been attempting to instill in the Revolution. And the Revolution will be experiencing their stiffest, and final, test of this sort of the season when they meet the Chicago Fire in the Eastern Conference final at Soldier Field at 8:30 tonight. The winner will play Kansas City or San Jose in the MLS Cup final in Carson, Calif., Nov. 23.

Though the quality of play in the MLS is improving, there is little evidence of visiting teams being disconcerted or intimidated by the home crowd. But the atmosphere at Soldier Field could be the exception. The Fire have attracted a passionate, vocal following since recently returning to the rebuilt stadium. And those supporters are expected to arrive in force for this match.

"You have to play this game like it's any other game," Revolution midfielder Brian Kamler said. "If you get caught up like it's the game of all games, you can get too hyped up. We can't give up anything in the first 10 minutes but we just have to play the game like we've been playing. That means sound defense, and like [Nicol] says, make sure we dot all the I's and cross all the T's. We want to get the first goal, but it's important that we don't give up a goal."

Kamler, recovering from a pulled hamstring, returns to the starting lineup after being replaced by Jason Moore in the second half of the playoff opener and in Game 2 against the MetroStars.

The Revolution are the hottest team in the league, with a team-record nine-game unbeaten streak. The last time the Revolution trailed was in the first half of a 4-1 victory over Dallas Oct. 4. Leading scorer Taylor Twellman broke his left foot in that match, but the Revolution have continued to have success -- they had a six-game winning streak snapped in a 1-1 tie with the MetroStars Sunday and are 7-0-2 since Sept. 7.

"We have a quality team and everyone works hard for each other," said Kamler, a member of D.C. United's MLS Cup-winning teams in 1996 and '97. "There are no egos on the team who are going to disrupt things. Everyone gets along. There are no players feuding with each other, no players feuding with management. It's unlike any team I've played for.

"In D.C., we had guys like John Harkes and Marco Etcheverry and we needed those egos because we had a lot of young guys who didn't know how to be professionals. But this team has a lot of experience and everyone knows what it means to be professional." . . .

Twellman, who scored 15 goals in 22 games this season, is scheduled to undergo surgery next week to insert a screw to repair the stress fracture in his left foot. The foot will then be in a cast until mid-Janary, likely negating Twellman's chance to participate in the US national team training camp that month.

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