Taylor Twellman says he and his New England Revolution teammates are underdogs against the Chicago Fire in the two-game Major League Soccer playoff series that starts Thursday night at Foxboro, Mass.
Sorry, Taylor, the Fire isn't buying it. As many times as the Revs have sent the Fire home for the winter the past few years - 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007 - no price will make that sale.
To be fair, the Revs are without injured team leader Steve Ralston. Khano Smith and Gabriel Badilla will miss Game 1 after getting red-carded last weekend, a 3-1 loss to Kansas City. The Revs have lost four of their last five games and haven't won a league match since Sept. 11.
And Tuesday The Boston Globe reported that Twellman is out indefinitely with concussion-related symptoms.
"We got to figure out who we are," Twellman said before being ruled out for the series. "We got to find an identity and some character real quick. The one thing this team has always had going into the playoffs is character. We've had our chests high and our character has been No. 1 in the league, hands down. Right now we don't have that and we got to figure it out real quick."
On the other hand the Revolution placed a strong third in the Eastern Conference and won the SuperLiga competition.
"I don't think they're down," Fire coach Denis Hamlett said Tuesday after practice. "I think they'll be ready for the game. You can't get caught up that they've got guys missing because, the moment we do, then we set ourselves up for failure. We feel that they're still the defending Eastern Conference champions, they've been to MLS Cup three times in a row. They're not just going to give that up that easy."
The Fire wouldn't underestimate the Revs if you and I were on the field in New England uniforms.
"I don't think there's ever a time you can count those guys out," veteran Fire defender Diego Gutierrez said. "New England is a difficult team. We know this is a team that plays well in big games. By no means are we going to write them off or disrespect them."
It shows at practice. The Fire looks focused and determined yet still loose.
"We're under no illusions that this is going to be easy," forward Brian McBride said. "We know it's going to be a difficult run-in, but yeah, we're prepared."
Offensively, the Fire couldn't look more sharp. Scoring 5 goals last week against New York was a good way to go into the postseason. The defense, the strength of the team for the first six months of the season, was soft the final month.
"Any time you're leaking goals it's a concern," Gutierrez said. "But having said that, as you look at long stretches of games, our guys played pretty well, regardless of who's in there. It's little lapses of concentration that have cost us. At times it's cost us games."
Still, the Fire is confident it has the players to win and the system to win, and the defensive problems will be worked out before the team gets on the airplane.
"There's no concern on our part," Hamlett said. "We know that some of the goals we gave up we could do a little bit better at concentration, but I still feel like we've got a good group of defenders.-
"Our guys know what's at stake. There's no finger-pointing, nothing like that. They're fine."
Awards: Speaking of Diego Gutierrez, congratulations to him for being named the U.S. Soccer Federation's Humanitarian of the Year for his work on the Nothing but Nets anti-malaria campaign. He has worked to raise more than $400,000 to buy insecticide-treated bed nets to combat malaria in Africa.
• Chris Rolfe won the MLS player of the week award for scoring 3 goals and assisting on 2 more against New York last week. Rolfe also won the team's Golden Boot award for his 9 goals and 7 assists.
• Goalkeeper Jon Busch was voted team MVP for playing every minute of every game this season, tying for the league lead in shutouts. His 1.10 goals-against average was second in the league.
• Finally, second-year pro Bakary Soumare was named team defender of the year.