Tuesday preview of TNF

This map would be more interesting if they further broke it down by US state. But probably not that much more interesting.

Either Poland or Grenada will go a long way towards elimination on Thursday, as Shalrie Joseph's New England Revolution face Tomasz Frankowski's Chicago Fire. The thing to remember about this game is HOLY CRAP, what a hatchet fight it's going to be. These teams meet every freaking year in the playoffs, and it always ends like the championship game in "Slap Shot." Also, New England almost always wins. In the Steve Nicol-Taylor Twellman era, the Revs and Fire have met in the playoffs five times. Chicago has won once. Five years ago.

The reason was usually that New England was measurably a better team, and the Fire was doing well to make it close and exciting. On paper, New England still looks pretty good, but on paper (well, on screen) it says New England has only won twice since Independence Day. It also says that Chicago won all three regular season meetings, a couple of times by good old-fashioned down-home ass-kickings. It goes on to say that Chicago has as good a road record as New England has a home record. And, just in case you thought it was finished, it tells me Steve Ralston is out for the playoffs.

Oh, yeah. So is Taylor Twellman.

Behold thus the perils of blowing off lesser trophies in pursuit of greater ones. Although Revolution fans might fairly ask how big a comfort the Open Cup is to DC fans right now, the answer will probably be something like "More than the Superliga."

It honestly did not occur to me how comprehensively screwed the Revolution were before I sat down to write this. I thought "Wow, Chicago and New England again, that's going to be a classic!" It would have been tough even without Steve Cronin and Herculez Gomez, but now? I'm wondering how New England keeps it even vaguely respectable.

Well...um...they're a tight-knit veteran bunch with solid, solid leadership. Kheli Dube is an exciting young player. Very little gets past Shalrie Joseph, who would have had a stronger MVP campaign if New England had finished stronger. Parkhurst, Albright, Reis, Heaps - that's a well-coordinated defense. And maybe it's just me, but I like the way Larentowicz handles his assignments so well, I've learned to spell his name properly.

It's not like I'm madly in love with this year's Fire, but they're much better than they were at the start of the season. A big reason for that is Jon Busch clawing his way back to the MLS elite. Another big reason is how Hamlett improved the defense, even with Wilman Conde longing for the gentle breezes of East Rutherford. A slightly smaller reason is Brian McBride exceeding my expectations and working well with Blanco.

And yet...well, Logan Pause has become a fine midfield general, better than Armas towards the end, but I don't think he's Joseph's match. Justin Mapp has turned into a frog, African-American star John Thorrington only plays well against the Galaxy, and damned if I didn't completely forget Andy Herron was still on the team.

Theoretically, Joseph, Larentowicz and Nyassi lead New England to absolute control of the midfield, allowing the relatively inexperienced Cristman and Dube enough opportunities to break down the Fire defense.

At least an equally likely theory is that the Fire defense brushes aside the crippled Revolution attack, and tune the Revs like a harp preparing for the next round.

I hate to be disrespectful of Steve Nicol and New England, but it looks like Chase Hilgenbrinck was on to something. First of two Fire blowouts Thursday night.