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Cancela set to go on attack

FOXBOROUGH -- The top soccer leagues in Europe use a conservative formula for acquiring imports. The richest clubs treat the rest of the planet as an extensive farm system, simply purchasing the best talent available, after those players have proven themselves in less glamorous situations.

Major League Soccer began in 1996 with great ambitions and a healthy injection of cash for transfer fees. A wide variety of foreigners arrived, an intriguing mix that helped with a successful launching of the league. But MLS retreated from making a challenge to Europe in the name of self-preservation, avoiding exposing itself to inflationary conditions.

Now, MLS is being more selective, less ambitious in its talent searches, foreign players arriving from low-profile situations, such as midfielders Jose Carlos Cancela (Revolution) and Amado Guevara (MetroStars), and defenders Hong Myong Bo (Los Angeles) and Galin Ivanov (D.C. United).

Cancela and Guevara have emerged as two of the most dynamic attacking players in the league, midfield points of reference for their teams as they prepare for the playoffs.

The Revolution and MetroStars will meet at Gillette Stadium at 4 p.m. tomorrow, then twice in the first round of the playoffs. If the Revolution earn at least a tie tomorrow, they will finish second in the Eastern Conference, then play a home-and-home series with the MetroStars, visiting Giants Stadium Nov. 1 and playing host Nov. 9. If the MetroStars finish in second place, they will visit the Revolution Nov. 2 and host the second game Nov. 8.

Though Cancela and Guevara have previously had only a vicarious rivalry -- Cancela succeeded Guevara as the foreign star with CD Saprissa in Costa Rica -- their battle in the midfield could be developing into an important subplot. Cancela clearly won the duel in a 2-1 Revolution victory over the MetroStars Sept. 13, and Guevara prevailed by scoring the winning goal in overtime for the MetroStars in a US Open Cup game Aug. 27.

But the central midfield duel is actually more tag-team, Shalrie Joseph supporting Cancela and Richie Williams or Ricardo Clark backing Guevara.

The Cancela-Joseph combination is still evolving. They did not team up for a full game until Aug. 9 -- the Revolution have a 6-3-2 record since then, earning 20 of their 42 points this season.

"They are an ideal pairing," Revolution coach Steve Nicol said yesterday. "They are very well-suited to each other, they complement each other very well. If there is a better pair in the league, you would be hard pressed to find them. There are a lot of teams in the league which would love to have them."

The most valuable player in MLS the last two seasons came from Central America -- Alex Pineda Chacon (Honduras) and Carlos Ruiz (Guatemala). Since Cancela (Uruguay) and Guevara (Honduras) arrived from Costa Rica, they might have been favored to continue the trend, but for the reemergence of Preki in Kansas City.

Cancela did not join the Revolution until late July, and though he has been aggressively creative and combative on the field, he has maintained an almost ultra-humble identity off the field, personifying the ideal foreign midfielder the team has been seeking.

The Revolution began pursuing Cancela during spring training in Costa Rica in March. Cancela had been recommended by former Revolution coach Fernando Clavijo, and Nicol even skipped Revolution practices to return to Costa Rica on a scouting mission in April. But Cancela did not officially become available until after Saprissa installed a policy of signing only domestic players.

Though the Revolution performed well without Cancela, who remained home with a left calf bruise, in taking a 2-1 victory over the MetroStars last week, he is expected to provide direction for the team in the playoffs.

"We have very good players and when we have needed them they have done very well," Cancela said. "It's good for us and will only continue to benefit us when players come in and do well. The team has improved in the last month and that improvement gives us the possibility of succeeding in the playoffs."

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