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This time it counts for teams

New season for Revolution, MetroStars

SECAUCUS, N.J. -- The MetroStars and Revolution have been preparing for today's opener of their two-game, aggregate-score playoff series since Oct. 11, when the teams clinched postseason berths and appeared likely to be first-round opponents.

Since then, the MetroStars and Revolution have been involved in some gamesmanship. Though the teams faced each other in the final two regular-season matches, both sides allowed injured players to heal, essentially pacing themselves and focusing on the playoffs.

The anticipated escalation in hostilities has not occurred. The brawls of the Aug. 27 US Open Cup match and Sept. 13 game at Giants Stadium seem to have been forgotten.

The Revolution were quite at ease yesterday. A six-plus-hour bus trip from Foxborough, Mass., caused a cancellation of a scheduled practice at Giants Stadium, so many of the players set up a lighthearted kickaround in the hotel's bricked courtyard, dodging potted plants, trees, and wooden benches.

"There is definitely a rivalry but there is not too much bad blood between the teams," Revolution midfielder Brian Kamler said. "Nobody has been talking stuff like they are going to kick this guy or that guy. This is a playoff game and everyone wants to play out the series. I don't think anyone is going to get out of control."

The MetroStars have been involved in most of the gamesmanship, some of it influenced by the fact they also participated in the Oct. 15 US Open Cup final, a 1-0 loss to Chicago. It was the first tournament final the MetroStars had qualified for in eight years, and they might have overcommitted themselves. Central defender Eddie Pope entered that match with a rib strain and has been attempting to recover since. Pope was among eight MetroStars starters who were rested in last week's regular-season finale, a 5-2 Revolution victory.

"We play each other four times in a row and we thought this might end up being a rough series," Revolution coach Steve Nicol said. "But I don't see it that way. Both teams are hard but fair. That's how the players play and how the coaches want it.

"You don't get any benefit from kicking people. You have to be disciplined. If not, you are letting your team down. I was always told that as a player, and I am only passing it on. It's a fact. If you [lose control], you think you are being punished, but at the end of the day you are punishing your team."

Nicol has been a calming influence on the Revolution's most spirited players, who are finding a balance between competitiveness and overexuberance.

"If someone gives you a slap, if that is what is put in front of you, you have to deal with it," Nicol said. "In those situations, you have to take it and that's that. It's not a slight on your masculinity if you don't punch back. I think it is discipline. As coaches, we are not disciplinarians, that's for sure. But you can't lose your cool and we try to hammer that in to the players every chance we get."

MetroStars coach Bob Bradley has been holding the cards closer to his chest than Nicol. The Revolution closed the regular season with a 6-0-1 run and a five-game winning streak. The MetroStars are 2-4-2 in all games since Sept. 20.

"We hope we have more momentum going into the playoffs but we know New York is not going to lay down," Kamler said. "They have a good team and Bob Bradley will have them fired up. It will be interesting to see how both teams react in the first 15 minutes. This is a new season."

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