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Playoff push has kicked in

Revolution victory gets the ball rolling

Major League Soccer's regular season is nearing its end, but this is not yet the must-win stage. Visiting teams, though, are mostly in a must-tie situation. The Revolution adopted this mentality at Giants Stadium Saturday night, but they took it a step farther and defeated the MetroStars, 2-1, reviving their playoff prospects with six matches remaining.

This was the first Revolution road win since May 24, when Pat Noonan sparked a late surge in a 3-2 victory at Columbus. Noonan was the key figure Saturday night in East Rutherford, N.J., scoring both goals, off a quickly-taken free kick in the 11th minute and on a well-conceived counterattack in the 73d, compensating for the injured Chris Brown (ankle bruise), Joe-Max Moore (right knee sprain), and Taylor Twellman (facial fractures).

The result also tightened the race for the three playoff spots behind Eastern Conference leader Chicago (43 points). The next four teams are separated by five points: the MetroStars (34), D.C. United (33), Columbus (31), and the Revolution (29). The Revolution could advance to sixth place overall in the standings with a win over Colorado Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, and for the first time in weeks their chances of success appear realistic.

Victories over Chicago (5-1) Aug. 30 and the MetroStars seem to have had a transforming effect on the team. The Revolution followed the road-team soccer textbook Saturday, defending aggressively and counterattacking efficiently, delaying and stalling, protecting their advantage. And when those tactics weren't enough, they relied on goalkeeper Adin Brown. The Revolution moved well and passed with conviction and accuracy, setting the tone in the first half.

"It's always easier when you have the ball," midfielder Steve Ralston said. "We need wins and we are not going to go out and defend the whole game.

"When they pushed forward, that left spaces open and that was part of our game plan."

In other words, the Revolution struck an effective balance. They were on the offensive when Jose Cancela was fouled, setting up a quick Shalrie Joseph free kick to Noonan for the first goal. Jay Heaps and Cancela ignited the counter for the second goal. The Revolution remained composed after Steve Jolley cut the MetroStars' deficit in the 81st minute, then a near brawl began during injury time as Cancela absorbed a hard foul from behind from Eddie Pope.

"You have to pick your time to go on the counter," Ralston said. "Because if you lose the ball, the other team is right back on you.

"When they scored, nobody's head went down, nobody felt like here we go again. We decided we were not going to give up anything. And it was very professional the way we went about killing the game off. It frustrated [the MetroStars]. You could tell by the tackle on Pepe [Cancela] at the end of the game."

The MetroStars' unimpressive performance also raised the prospect of another possible collapse. Bob Bradley was hired as coach after the MetroStars fell out of contention in the final days last season and so far has revitalized the team. But both teams' seasons could be decided when they meet in the final two games of the season, Oct. 18 and 25.

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