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Pierce anchors defense

Revolution veteran key player vs. Crew

FOXBOROUGH -- Rusty Pierce could have played his last game for the Revolution at Gillette Stadium last week. Pierce is completing his fifth season with the Revolution, the longest continuously serving member of the team, and his Major League Soccer contract concludes in December.

Pierce's future likely will be determined by his performance when the Revolution visit Columbus in a playoff series concluding game Sunday. Should the Revolution advance (with at least a tie against the Crew), they would be a game away from the MLS Cup final, a surprising feat since they were in last place in the overall standings until the final day of the regular season.

"I want to end on a good note, if this is my last year," Pierce said yesterday. "I want to go out and compete like I have done since the first day."

Though the Revolution have underachieved this season, they have improved since 2000, when Pierce joined the team. This is the Revolution's fourth playoff appearance in five years.

"I don't know what it was like in years past, but we expect to make it in every year now," Pierce said. "Expectations are high and they are realistically high. But everyone is caught up in just making the playoffs, but to make the next step, we need to do better. We won't deserve to be considered one of the elite teams in the league until we prove it week in and week out, until we are winning 20 games in a season.

"We only won eight games this year and only by winning the last game did we tie for the last [playoff spot]. We need to do better than that."

Pierce's positioning, timing, and tenacious marking have characterized the Revolution's defense since he returned from injury in August. Since then, Pierce also has added composure to his game. He remains among the team's most combative players, but he has been avoiding the cautions and suspensions of the past. He has only three cautions in 15 games, fourth on the team and third among defenders in cards per game.

"I only have one yellow card in my last 10 games," Pierce said. "That says something. I realized I had to change a lot to get to the next level, and that meant being more mature and looking at things differently. It's part of growing up. It's tough to look in the mirror and realize you have to change and it took some maturity on my part. But my competitiveness will never change."

Pierce has been a favorite of local fans since his home debut, a 2-1 win over D.C. United April 15, 2000. Pierce has performed in 111 regular-season and playoff matches, one ahead of Mike Burns, whom he replaced in the lineup in 2000, and fourth on the team's all-time list. The Revolution's 1-0 win over Columbus last Saturday improved the team's home record to 39-27-15 in all MLS games in the last five years. In the Revolution's first four seasons, they had a 23-32-10 record at Foxboro Stadium.

Columbus is expected to pressure the Revolution and utilize the speed of forwards such as Edson Buddle and Jeff Cunningham.

"The team gets in trouble when we don't play team defense," Pierce said. "If we give them time and don't take pride in possession of the ball, if we get lazy and don't make runs, don't do the little things, we get in trouble. Columbus is a very good team. If they have time in the midfield and their forwards can time their runs, and that goes for any forwards on any team in the league, we will be in trouble." . . .
The Revolution could have a lively training session today. A week ago, practices were marked by confrontations between players, but there has been little apparent tension this week. "It gets more intense if we shorten the field up," Revolution coach Steve Nicol said. "We are looking for a wee bit more intensity [today] but we don't want that all the time or we would end up without any players. Everyone is focused and quietly confident; nobody is taking their foot off the pedal."

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