FOXBOROUGH -- The Columbus Crew have been regular-season overachievers and postseason underachievers. The Revolution have been the opposite. Both teams will be attempting to change their reputations when they meet at Gillette Stadium in the Revolution's home opener tonight.
Columbus is unbeaten in its last 19 regular-season Major League Soccer games, but was unable to win when it counted last year, falling to the Revolution in the playoffs. The Crew extended their unbeaten streak to 19 games over two years with a 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy in the season opener last week.
The Revolution, who have won only one season opener in 10 seasons, continued their slow-starting ways with a 2-2 tie at San Jose. But the Revolution's passing game clicked in during the second half against the Earthquakes, providing hope for improvement.
"Our aim has been to pass the ball well," Revolution coach Steve Nicol said yesterday. "That is what we have been emphasizing in training and if the saying, `Practice makes perfect,' bears any fruit, we should be fine. We have made passing the ball better, using the ball better, a priority.
"It is a combination of things. You need players who can pass the ball and players who want to do it. Then, it is a matter of concentration. You don't just turn up and have a passing game. You can't sit back, you have to be 100 percent concentrated to make it work."
The Revolution can give some credit to the Crew for their evolving offensive style. When Nicol switched to a 3-5-2 formation after halftime during a game at Columbus last May, the change ignited the offense, though the results were smothered by goalkeeper Jon Busch in the Crew's 1-0 victory. That game helped set the tone for unpredictable occurrences in this rivalry.
The Revolution lost a regular-season match last year as Jose Cancela twice attempted to chip Busch on penalty kicks, the second failing in the 93d minute. And the Revolution ousted the Crew from the playoffs as Matt Reis saved two penalty kicks in October.
"Every time we play Columbus, it's either something spectacular or somebody's mistake that makes the difference," Nicol said. "Every game we play with them is tight. We were on the wrong side during the regular season, but each of those games could have gone the other way."
The Revolution appear to have settled their penalty-kick questions, with US national team midfielder Steve Ralston and Shalrie Joseph the top choices. None of the Crew players involved in the playoff penalty misses will be with the team. Ross Paule (concussion) is out and Tony Sanneh is with Chicago. Jeff Cunningham, who earned the second penalty, and is 2 for 2 against the Revolution, is with Colorado.
"I would like to say it could happen again," Reis said. "I would like to say I could save every penalty kick. It gives the advantage to your team, gives them a shot of adrenaline, to say now we can do it, because you have turned a sure goal into no goal."
Columbus has made several changes in the offseason, adding Ante Razov (ex-Chicago), Mario Rodriguez (Alajuelense, Costa Rica), and Mark Schulte (IBV, Iceland). The Revolution's only changes are likely to be central defender Michael Parkhurst, replacing Rusty Pierce (Real Salt Lake), and Joe Franchino in place of Avery John.
"There is not as much riding on this game as in the playoffs," Reis said. "Both teams are trying to get their identity, integrating some new players." . . .
The Revolution's Brazilian midfielder Cassio (left quadriceps) is out . . . Edson Buddle, who scored twice for the Crew against the Galaxy, was named MLS player of the week. Buddle, who was named after Pele (Edson Arantes do Nascimento), scored three times in six matches against the Revolution last year.