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Revolution miss out on chance

Armas's OT strike puts Fire in MLS championship game

CHICAGO -- The Revolution's eighth season ended nearly the same way as the seventh. Chicago's Chris Armas finished into an open net in the 101st minute, providing the sudden-death score of a 1-0 Fire victory in the Eastern Conference final last night.

The Revolution, who lost in overtime in the MLS Cup final last season, had a nine-game unbeaten streak ended as Armas tapped in after Justin Mapp slipped around Marshall Leonard on the left side of the Revolution defense, pulling the ball back for Damani Ralph, who sent it forward to an unmarked Armas.

This was the first year the Revolution compiled a winning record -- they were 12-9-9 in the regular season and 1-1-1 in the playoffs -- and also the first time the team appears likely to sustain success. But the Revolution were disappointed and frustrated after this result, which ended a team-record nine-game unbeaten streak. Chicago played aggressively on defense, disrupting the Revolution's midfield possession, and constantly threatened with midfielders DaMarcus Beasley and Andy Williams and forwards Ralph and Ante Razov.

"We didn't play well but our effort was huge," Revolution coach Steve Nicol said. "Our defense was as good as it has played all season, not just the back five, everyone chipped in when they needed to. But we gave the ball away far too often. It is inevitable when you do that that the other team is going to get something.

"We made wrong decisions, bad passes, whatever it was. But we stuck at it. Everyone is gutted that we didn't win the game, but we are going to keep going. This team is far stronger than last year and, but for one game, we would be in the final again."

Armas led the way as Chicago controlled midfield for most of the game. Armas and Jesse Marsch concentrated on stifling the Revolution's Jose Cancela, allowing Williams freedom to create from the right side of midfield. Then, Mapp replaced Williams in the 81st minute and was able to set up several chances before the play leading to the goal.

The Revolution had some clear chances, the best a first-half header by Dario Fabbro off a free kick in the 11th minute, and a 46th-minute left-foot attempt on a counter by Pat Noonan. But the Fire had the best opportunities.

Beasley slid a shot barely wide of the right post after an Armas dummy of a Williams through ball in the 30th minute. In the 53d minute, Revolution defender Jay Heaps was cautioned after Beasley went down about 25 yards from goal, leading to a Williams free kick to the back post. Chicago defender Jim Curtin looped the header over goalkeeper Adin Brown, but Heaps recovered to head over the bar.

"We couldn't get anything flowing," Heaps said. "I don't think we fouled that much more than they did, but they probably got more calls than we did. All those fouls chop up the game, and it seemed like there were a lot of free kicks around the box.

"That had a little advantage playing at home but we stuck with them and played 0-0 for 90 minutes, which is what we wanted to do. Chicago is a great team and they deserve full respect. They might not respect us or think we are good, but we played with great competitiveness and fought hard."

The game opened up in the final minutes of regulation time, both teams capitalizing on the extra space on the wings with substitutes Mapp and the Revolution's Jason Moore. Just before the deciding play, the Revolution had squandered two counterattacking possibilities, as Moore found room on the left side, but Moore crossed into the stands, then lost possession after a buildup involving Cancela, Fabbro, and Noonan.

"Chicago had a great season and the best team won this game," Nicol said. "We put a lot of effort into defending and were under pressure for 90 minutes. But [the Revolution] can be proud of themselves. Other teams might have packed it in when we went through that rough patch earlier in the season but one thing this team doesn't do, and that's pack it in."

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