FOXBOROUGH - The Revolution are hoping the fourth time will be a charm, in the form of a championship.
Taylor Twellman's 38th-minute bicycle kick provided the difference as the Revolution took a 1-0 win over the Chicago Fire in the Eastern Conference final last night, qualifying for their third successive MLS Cup appearance.
The Revolution, who lost in the MLS Cup in 2002, '05, and '06, will meet Houston or Kansas City in the final Nov. 18 in Washington.
"We've had the core group together the last five or six years and we're experienced," Twellman said. "That gut-wrenching feeling in 2005 was hard to take. Last year's was even harder. But you saw in the locker room, we celebrated for two minutes and then we said, 'OK, let's get on with it.' "
Twellman has converted timely goals - he now has 100 in MLS in the regular season (91) and playoffs (9) - but few as spectacular as this one.
The scoring sequence started as Steve Ralston earned a corner, Chicago's clearance eventually going to Wells Thompson, who crossed for Twellman at the back post. Defender Dasan Robinson and Twellman went up for the ball, which popped up behind them. Twellman, his back to the net, reacted first, bicycling the shot while sandwiched between Robinson and Logan Pause, the ball rifling past goalkeeper Matt Pickens.
"I was trying to get an inch all game," Twellman said. "I was frustrated because I should have scored on a header before that. The ball popped up and it was instinct; it was the only way I could get a shot off."
Twellman has scored the last four Revolution playoff goals over two seasons, converting in the Eastern Conference final last year (a 1-0 win over D.C. United), in the MLS Cup (a penalty-kick loss to Houston), and in the 1-0 aggregate victory over New York in the first round of this year's playoffs.
"We were talking yesterday and I asked Taylor what the best goal he ever scored was, and he couldn't think of any," Ralston said. "I think he can now. That goal was a different class. A lot of guys score goals, but to do that at this stage is special."
The Revolution capitalized on the home-field advantage in the playoffs, performing defensively in New York in the opening game, then going full speed ahead in the last two games.
The Revolution's aggressive offensive tactics gave them early momentum. Jeff Larentowicz, a defensive midfielder responsible for containing the Fire's Cuauhtemoc Blanco, symbolized the strategy by speeding to the end line for a cross in the opening minutes. The Revolution attempted to take free kicks quickly instead of setting up, hoping to catch the Fire off guard and sending the message they would be pushing the pace as much as possible.
Twellman had chances off a Khano Smith cross, his header being tipped over the bar (17th minute), and missing wide (20th) after Robinson failed to clear.
Chicago used Costa Rican forward Paulo Wanchope as a point of reference in the penalty area, and though Wanchope won several balls in the air, the Fire could not capitalize.
At the start of the second half, Diego Gutierrez replaced Robinson, and the Fire gradually started sending defenders into the attack, also adding midfielder Justin Mapp, who was playing for the first time since being injured in August.
But the Revolution remained compact defensively, and goalkeeper Matt Reis was well positioned to stop shots by Blanco, Wilman Conde, Gonzalo Segares, Chris Rolfe, and late substitute Calen Carr.
And Thompson set the tone for the Revolution's aggressiveness at the start of the half, going full force into the advertising boards in a clash with Gutierrez in the opening seconds.
The Revolution's free-kick strategy nearly paid off early in the second, but Segares cleared (55th) with Twellman on the verge of running onto a Noonan feed in the penalty area. Noonan nearly slotted a left-footed through off a scramble just behind the penalty spot, the shot going through Pickens, who recovered to make the stop just in front of the goal line.
As the Fire pressed forward, the Revolution squandered several counterattacking chances.
"Any clear chances we had, and any chances they had were scrappy challenges in the box," Revolution coach Steve Nicol said. "Every time we play Chicago, it's a physical battle. That's a normal game between these two teams."
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.