FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – Joe Franchino and the New England Revolution are headed for their third MLS Cup in five seasons. The midfielder thinks they’re prepared to win their first league title.

They’ll get their chance Sunday against the Houston Dynamo in Frisco, Texas.

“We’ve been there. We know what to expect,” Franchino said after practice Wednesday. “I think we’re ready for it.”

In both of their meetings this season, New England and Houston tied 1-1. Later, the Revolution went on an impressive stretch drive, going 5-0-2 in their last seven regular-season games.

Then they lost the opener of the two-game, total-goals playoff series to Chicago 1-0 but forced the second game into overtime with a 2-1 victory that gave both teams two goals. They ended up winning in a shootout, 4-2.

“This group, for me, has shown a real strong mentality,” coach Steve Nicol said of the comeback, “and if there was a chance of any team doing it, then I knew we’d be one of the teams.”

Then, in their fifth straight Eastern Conference title game, the Revolution beat D.C. United 1-0 on Sunday on Taylor Twellman’s goal in the fourth minute to advance to the MLS title game for the second consecutive season. They lost to Los Angeles in 2002 and 2006, both by 1-0 scores in double overtime.

This year’s championship game has added meaning because Clint Dempsey and Shalrie Joseph, two of New England’s top offensive players, might play in Europe next year.

“We knew that going into the season,” Franchino said. “Who knows what next year is going to bring, but we’d like to finish it out because last year was bittersweet.”

Dempsey sprained his ankle late in the first game against Chicago and missed the next two games but is listed as probable for the game in his home state. He scored eight goals in 21 games, missing some while he played on the World Cup team in Germany. Twellman played all 32 games and led the team with 11 goals.

Pat Noonan, limited to 14 games by injury, played all 90 minutes in the Eastern Conference championship game and assisted on Twellman’s goal.

“With the injuries that we’ve had through the middle of the season, some guys have had to step up and the people that were injured are now coming back from injuries,” goalkeeper Matt Reis said. “I think the guys that have stepped in have really given us a boost.”

The Revolution head into the game with an aggressive offense, leading all playoff teams with 19 shots on goal.

Defensively, they haven’t allowed more than one goal in any of their last 10 games.

“We’re playing well now so the confidence is high,” Franchino said four days before their next shot at the MLS championship. “We’ve been fortunate. We’ve had a few opportunities, but they’re not going to come every day. We know that.”

AP-ES-11-08-06 1815EST

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