It seems nothing - Mexican opposition, bad blood, scuffles, player absences, naked men running amuck on airplanes - can distract New England's players and coaches as they strive to make their first serious foray into international competition a triumphant one.
Missing All-Star defender Michael Parkhurst - who is in Asia with the U.S. Olympic team - for its semifinal against Atlante Wednesday at Gillette Stadium, the Revs simply moved midfielder Jeff Larentowicz -- a center back during his college career -- into a four-man back line, and stole the only goal they needed in the 30th minute when Shalrie Joseph lunged to head home a Steve Ralston free kick.
Cards, elbows, and tackles flew for the rest of the match that ended with Atlante two men short. At the final whistle a melee erupted among players, coaches and team officials during which four more players were shown the red card by referee Carlos Batres. The ejected included Revs defender Jay Heaps, apparently for being knocked to the ground as shoves and punches predominated.
The 1-0 victory landed New England into the final next Tuesday against nemesis Houston, which knocked off Pachuca, 2-0, in its semifinal. Houston has beaten the Revs in the last two MLS Cups at neutral venues - in 2006 at Pizza Hut Park, and last year at RFK Stadium - but will have to duplicate those outcomes at Gillette Stadium to win SuperLiga 2008.
New England controlled the early play while demonstrating a superiority in the air on set pieces that would eventually decide the match. Joseph headed a Maurice Castro free kick a yard over the top and Kheli Dube went closer by driving a Kenny Mansallycross off the crossbar.
Provided another chance, albeit a disputed one from nearly 40 yards out when Javier Munoz Mustafa fouled Mansally, Ralston lined up to take the kick and as Atlante protests continued, he lofted a ball to the back post that Joseph soared to head off the underside of the bar and into the side netting.
Atlante intensified its efforts in the second half and sparked angry reactions from the Revs when Gabriel Arreola set sail for goal as Joseph lay on the ground. After he ran the ball over the goal line, Arreola faced a pack of upset Revs and more bickering ensued.
A period of sustained Atlante pressure forced several hasty clearances by the Revs and a sharp play by keeper Matt Reis, who raced out to swat away a ball from Munoz Mustafa before he could smash it into the net.
Ralston won another free kick by dispossessing Alan Zamora in the attacking third but as he prepared to take the kick himself and players jostled in the penalty area, Batres blew the whistle and brought out a red card for Luis Gabriel Rey, who had apparently punched Joseph in the stomach as they tussled.
Zamora earned a second caution in stoppage time by two-footing Joseph from behind, and acrimony escalated as Batres tried to keep control during nearly six minutes of added play. Seconds after the final whistle players, subs, coaches and officials swarmed in midfield. Heaps hit the ground hard, Chris Albright swore furiously after someone had clawed his face, and Atlante keeper Federico Vilar, the team captain, jabbed his gloves into several chests before leaving the field.
On only two previous occasions have the Revs played international competition, losing to Costa Rican club Alajuenense both times in the 2003 and 2006 CONCACAF Champions' Cup during the MLS preseason. Two years ago, New England played its home game in Bermuda, rather than face frigid late winter conditions in Foxborough.
For SuperLiga, with the Mexican teams just starting their seasons and the Revs in midseason form, New England beat Santos Laguna and Pachuca in 1-0 games at home and tied Chivas USA 1-1 before winning yet another one-goal game against yet another Mexican team.
During the team's flight to Southern California to play Chivas USA, a man undressed and tried to open the emergency door before being subdued by three New England staff members. In that game, Joseph headed home a Ralston free kick. Apparently no Atlante scout took note.
"These games are important for the league, of course, and they are not easy for us, because the Mexican teams are very good at keeping possession," said Joseph during All-Star activities in Toronto. "They keep the ball much better than most MLS teams, and so we have to be patient and move as a team.
"We like to win the ball as soon as we can and we don't always play as patiently as we should. They have skillful players, so we have to be smart, but we have good players, too, so we have confidence that we can beat them.
Revs and Atlante players clashed five months ago when the teams played a preseason match during New England's stay in Mexico. They will meet again in the fall if New England advances past Joe Public FC of Trinidad & Tobago in the CONCACAF Champions' League preliminary round.
By then, either New England or Houston will enter the CONCACAF tournament as reigning SuperLiga champion
July 30 in Foxborough, Mass. (Gillette Stadium)
New England 1 Atlante 0
Goal:Joseph (Ralston) 30.
New England -Reis, Igwe, Heaps, Larentowicz, Albright, Castro (Smith 64), Joseph, Ralston, Nyassi, Mansally (Cristman 79), Dube.
Atlante - Vilar, Castillo (Venegas, 39), Munoz Mustafa, Guerrero (Trujillo 80), Munoz (Navarro, 50), Bermudez, Espinoza (Valadez, 90), Zamora, Maldonado, Arreola, Gabriel Rey.
Yellow cards:New England Igwe 27, Nyassi 52, Albright 85, Cristman 90. Atlante -- Maldonado 53, Espinoza 56, Navarro 71, Zamora 84, Gabriel Rey 85, Vilar 85, Zamora 91+.
Red cards: New England -- Heaps 95+; Atlante -- Gabriel Rey 85, Munoz Mustafa 95+, Vilar 95+.
Referee: Carlos Batres