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Revelation for Revolution

Changes turned team's fortunes

FOXBOROUGH -- In their formative years, the Revolution struggled to devise a winning formula. But the current players appear to have shed the burden of past failures. Fatalism and pessimism have been replaced by optimism and pragmatism.

"When I first got here the depth just wasn't there," Revolution captain Joe Franchino said yesterday. "We only had a certain amount of guys who played. But [coach] Stevie Nicol changed that. We have guys who can step up and play, so no matter who is on the field we are confident we can win."

Franchino is preparing for his third appearance in the MLS playoffs in four seasons with the Revolution. The Revolution meet the MetroStars at Gillette Stadium at 4 p.m. today, then the teams will be rematched in a two-game, total-goals playoff series starting next weekend.

The Revolution have a 5-0-1 record since Sept. 7, despite missing strikers Chris Brown and Taylor Twellman (broken left feet) and Joe-Max Moore (left knee).

Franchino (left calf strain) missed the last three matches, his last touch a clinical free kick for the deciding goal in a 3-2 overtime win over Columbus Sept. 28. But Franchino will return to his left back position, with Marshall Leonard starting at right back in place of Jay Heaps (hip flexor).

"When Taylor and Joe-Max and Chris Brown got injured we could have said our season was over, but we didn't," Franchino said. "But guys have stepped up and that shows the depth and character of this team."

The Revolution qualified for the playoffs only once in their first four seasons. But they concluded last season with a 5-0-1 record in their last six matches, then advanced to the MLS Cup final after winning two three-match playoff series. This time, only three games will be required to reach the final, scheduled for Nov. 23 in Carson, Calif.

The Revolution (42 points) have a chance to tie the team record for points in a season (45), set three years ago. The 2000 team, coached by Fernando Clavijo, started changing the team's fortunes, qualifying for the playoffs with three matches remaining in the regular season. In 2000 and this season, the Revolution clinched a playoff berth with a 1-0 victory over D.C. United, on a goal by Jose Luis Morales in 2000 and on a penalty kick by Steve Ralston Oct. 11.

"I would say this is the best team we have had since I've been here," Franchino said. "Everyone can play and everyone knows their role. We have a system and everyone understands it. We are better organized and we have chemistry.

"But we also know that once you are in the playoffs anything can happen. When the playoffs start it's a new season. We are fortunate to have played in the playoffs last season, otherwise we would be a little naive about them."

The Revolution will be near full strength defensively and in midfield, but the MetroStars are expected to rest Amado Guevara (right ankle) and Eddie Pope (ribs), and possibly Clint Mathis.

"You only have a roster of 18, and you are going to have two or three guys injured, anyway," Nicol said. "It's not European football, with 30 professionals in the squad. I am more concerned with what we are doing. You can't pick and choose when you are going to play well. If we were all that clever it would be easy. We are on a good roll winning games and best thing we can do is keep winning." . . .

Heaps will be missing a match with an injury for the first time. "That includes college games," he said . . . The Revolution are 2-1-1 against the MetroStars in all games, winning the last two meetings. "New York is a dangerous team," Heaps said. "They have a smart coach [Bob Bradley] who tinkers and switches things around to their benefit. Their veterans are very good and their young guys are unpredictable."

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