The Revs' poise and tenacity proved superior to Chicago's sporadic bursts, but only by that single goal, as a noisy but disappointingly small crowd of 10,317 did its best to fill the vastness of Gillette Stadium with banging drums and droning chants. At the final whistle, they celebrated their third straight victory in the Eastern Conference final and a spot in MLS Cup.
November soccer in the Northeast is prosaic. Sub-freezing temperatures and balls skittering across an artificial surface discourage fancy feints or pretty pirouettes, but amid stretches of aimless, sometimes reckless play, players linked up to move the ball smoothly and crisply.
Referee Kevin Stott let most of the borderline stuff go, which greatly irritated Cuauhtemoc Blanco and occasionally left a player stretched out in distress, but for a playoff game to generate far more shots than fouls (22, 11 to each team) is a testament to the players as well as the referee. Usually the players, even the cantankerous Blanco, got up and got on with it.
The fact six players were carrying yellow cards and knew another one would rule them out of the final minimized debate, leaving Stott free to ignore Blanco's tumbles, use the advantage rule wisely, and issue just one card, to the Revs' Jeff Larentowicz.
Chicago pressed early but couldn't net the goal that would have enabled it to play tighter against a team trying to catch-up. Twellman lit up the night with a goal steeped in his characteristic opportunism yet rather alien to his lunch-bucket persona in the 38th minute.
He and Fire defender Dasan Robinson contested a Wells Thompson cross and after the ball had ricocheted straight up into the air,
Twellman went horizontal to strike a bike between the desperate lunges of Robinson and Logan Pause. The sharply hit ball skipped off the turf past Fire keeper Matt Pickens, who had come out a few yards as the cross came over but then retreated and thus had no chance to reach it.
Chicago generated a fair share of chances at both ends of the match. In the first half, Avery John blocked a close-range Paulo Wanchope attempt set up by Wilman Conde, and Wanchope also dragged one shot well wide and missed a close-range header from a Blanco free kick.
Chris Rolfe fired a low shot past the post from just beyond the penalty arc. But defenders Jay Heaps, Michael Parkhurst and John repelled many more crosses and passes, and Shalrie Joseph and Jeff Larentowicz plugged the middle.
The Fire sometimes got the wrong matchup in the right area. Barrett found space on the left wing, but seldom could trick his way past Heaps or Parkhurst. Had Rolfe, who twice needed a few minutes to recover from being decked, run onto those balls, more danger would have resulted. Barrett and Wanchope won head balls, but usually one of the Revs' back three pounced to hack the ball clear.
Twellman's goal typified not only his zeal to score in any way possible but his resiliency. Before he scoring he'd missed two decent chances and once got up off the ground grimacing, having wrenched his back in a challenge. It also marked the 100th tally, counting regular season and playoff goals, of a career studded by accomplishments.
Twellman's bike came with Robinson draped over him trying to head the ball, and in such cases there's always a suspicion of dangerous play. But while Robinson did turn his head just in case Twellman's foot were to reach it, he was never going to get the ball leaning over Twellman's shoulder.
Chicago coach Juan Carlos Osorio held onto his two attacking subs until very late. Justin Mapp, out since Aug. 29 with a sprained ankle, entered the game in the 77th minute and speedster Calen Carr didn't get on until the 88th. Still, a final flurry nearly netted an equalizer against a scrambling Revs defense, but shots by Conde, Rolfe, Carr and Gonzalo Segares went straight to Reis, and Rolfe also fired wide.
New England maintained its unblemished record -- no goals allowed -- in the 2007 playoffs.
Chicago's loss ended a great run of 10 games unbeaten to reach the playoffs and then knock off top seed D.C. United. For Revs fans, they yearn that their team's run of three MLS Cup losses - including in overtime and on penalty kicks the past two years - is about to end.
Nov. 8 in Foxboro, Mass.
New England 1 Chicago 0.
Goals:Twellman (Thompson) 38.
New England - Reis, Heaps, Parkhurst, John, Thompson (Riley, 82), Joseph, Larentowicz, Ralston, Smith, Twellman, Noonan (Cristman, 86).
Chicago -Pickens, Brown, Robinson (Gutierrez, 46), Segares, Pause (Carr, 88), Rolfe, Armas, Blanco, Conde, Wanchope, Barrett (Mapp, 77).
Yellow Card: New England - Larentowicz 36.
Referee: Kevin Stott.