FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – There was a time when Saturday night’s meeting between the New England Revolution and Chicago Fire would’ve been the marquee match-up of MLS Heineken Rivalry Week.
There’s little doubt that the animosity between these clubs has faded over the years – so much so that the Revs-Fire showdown isn’t technically included as a Rivalry Week contest – but there remains a large swath of Revolution fans who, to this day, consider Chicago to be New England’s fiercest enemy.
It was a rivalry bred not through marketing gimmicks, clever nicknames, or regional proximity. No, the hostility between the Revolution and Fire was real, stoked by years of shared Eastern Conference dominance, a plethora of playoff matches, and the kind of intrinsic bad blood you can’t manufacture.
In short, these two teams really didn’t like each other.
The height of the Revolution-Fire rivalry was in the mid-2000s and was defined by the likes of Taylor Twellman, Steve Ralston, Shalrie Joseph, Matt Reis, Pat Noonan and Jay Heaps for New England, and Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Nate Jaqua, Chris Armas, Gonzalo Segares, Andy Herron, and Zach Thornton for Chicago.
The Revs and Fire met in the postseason a remarkable eight times between 2000 and 2009, totaling 15 playoff matches. Several of those encounters are featured here, in the top five matches of the heated rivalry between the New England Revolution and Chicago Fire.
With a Revolution bias, of course …
2006 Eastern Conference Semifinals
October 28, 2006
Revs win 4-2 on penalties, advance to Eastern Conference Championship
New England entered Game 2 of the 2006 Eastern Conference Semifinals in a hole after suffering a 1-0 loss in Game 1 at Toyota Park, falling victim to a Justin Mapp first-half goal. Game 2 at Gillette Stadium started just as poorly, as Nate Jaqua gave the Fire a 1-0 lead in the 18th minute.
From there, however, the comeback was on as Taylor Twellman (41st minute) and Pat Noonan (58th) struck back to force extra time with a 2-1 win, and eventually a penalty shootout, from which the Revs emerged 4-2 winners en route to the second of three consecutive Eastern Conference titles.
2002 Eastern Conference Semifinals
October 2, 2002
Revs win 2-0 to clinch first-ever playoff series victory
Back in the days of the three-game playoff series, New England and Chicago split the first two games of the 2002 Eastern Conference Semifinals – the Revs winning Game 1 at Gillette Stadium, and the Fire returning the favor in Game 2 at Cardinal Stadium.
The sides returned to Foxborough for a decisive Game 3, and the Revs put on a show for their home fans. Brian Kamler scored the game winner in the 12th minute and Taylor Twellman added insurance midway through the second half as the Revs claimed a 2-0 win in the game, and a series victory.
It was New England’s first-ever triumph in a playoff series and kick-started their run to the 2002 MLS Cup final, which they hosted in front of 61,316 fans at Gillette Stadium (including the author of this piece).
Opening of Bridgeview Stadium
June 11, 2006
Revs score twice in stoppage time to claim 3-3 draw
Everything seemed to be falling into place for the Chicago Fire to open their brand new home in Bridgeview with a cathartic victory over the Revs. Nate Jaqua scored a pair of goals in the 39th and 79th minutes to stake Chicago to a 2-0 lead, and when Taylor Twellman cut that deficit in half in the 87th minute, Calen Carr responded immediately to seemingly salt away a 3-1 win for the Fire.
But the Revs refused to roll over. Steve Ralston banged home an Andy Dorman cross in the third minute of stoppage time to make it a 3-2 game, before Dorman got on the scoresheet himself with a dramatic equalizer just 60 seconds later.
Dorman’s celebration – mimicking the linesman raising his offside flag after an earlier goal had been disallowed – has become something of a cult classic in New England.
2005 Eastern Conference Championship
November 6, 2005
Revs win 1-0 to claim first of three straight Eastern Conference titles
There was no shortage of drama in the 2005 Eastern Conference Championship match, as the Revs set their sights on revenge after suffering a 1-0, overtime loss to the Fire in the 2003 conference title game.
Clint Dempsey got the Revolution off to the perfect start at Gillette Stadium, scoring in the fourth minute with assists from Shalrie Joseph and Daniel Hernandez. From there, the Revs hung on to their slender lead, riding seven saves from Matt Reis all the way into second-half stoppage time.
That’s when the drama began.
Gonzalo Segares appeared to pull the Fire level as he latched onto a long pass and bundled the ball over the line, but the linesman’s flag went up to – correctly, replays showed – rule the Chicago defender offside. Mayhem ensued as the Fire rushed the linesman, and Chicago forward Andy Herron was sent off amidst the madness.
Ultimately the Revs held on to their 1-0 win to claim the first of three straight Eastern Conference titles … but not without another postgame scuffle to continue to ignite one of the league’s fiercest rivalries.
2007 Eastern Conference Championship
November 8, 2007
Revs win 1-0 to claim third straight Eastern Conference title
The most memorable goal in Revolution history led to one of the most memorable wins in Revolution history on a frigid November night in Foxborough.
A singular moment defined the match, and it arrived in the 38th minute. Wells Thompson’s throw-in was laid off by Pat Noonan back to Thompson, who lofted a cross high into the penalty area. Taylor Twellman mistimed his initial leap and header, which popped the ball straight into the air.
Recalibrating himself, Twellman launched himself into the air, between a pair of Fire defenders, and connected on a bicycle kick that beat Fire goalkeeper Matt Pickens to his left. It was, in every sense, picture perfect.
In the end, it was all New England needed. The Revs frustrated the Fire for the final 50 minutes to claim a 1-0 victory and advance to their third consecutive MLS Cup final.
“It was just instinct. I didn’t think,” Twellman told the Barnicle Brothers in an MLS feature about his bike. “It was nothing like I went into that game saying, ‘I’m going to score a bicycle kick.’ But you dream about those moments, and anyone that tells you they don’t, they’re full of it.”