On long road to playoffs, Chivas USA take first step

Braun, Goats snatch three points in crucial win over D.C. United

CARSON, Calif. – There are a lot of things that have to go right for Chivas USA in the next two months if the team is going to make an appearance in the 2010 postseason.

With just nine regular season games left to play, the Red-and-White must salvage every possible point in order to climb out of the Western Conference cellar and challenge for a fifth consecutive playoff spot.

The Goats took a step in the right direction Sunday, thanks to a 1-0 win over visiting D.C. United at The Home Depot Center. A 13th-minute goal from in-form striker Justin Braun was the difference in a game that was largely dominated by the visitors.

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“At the end of the day, it’s a shutout and three points,” Chivas USA head coach Martín Vásquez said. “It wasn’t pretty at times, but we were solid defensively, especially in the last 10 minutes. There have been games in the past where we’ve given up a late result, so I’m happy with the effort. Every game for us means a lot.”

The Red-and-White boasted a lineup on Sunday that was jam-packed with experience. Vásquez chose seven-year veteran Marcelo Saragosa over Ben Zemanski and Michael Lahoud to parntner Paulo Nagamura in central midfield, and Giancarlo Maldonado was preferred to Alan Gordon up top.

“If you look at our group tonight, we have experience,” Vásquez said. “It’s going to be important in these games. Marcelo played a very good game and so did Paulo. Ben and Michael are sharp and ready. We’re lucky to have four midfielders that can play together. They’re all doing very well for us.”

On the other side of the field, D.C. United interim coach Ben Olson used a lineup that was largely composed of backups and reserves. Regulars Carey Talley, Clyde Simms, Chris Pontius, and Julius James all started on the bench for the visitors, perhaps resting ahead of the team’s US Open Cup semifinal matchup with Columbus on Wednesday.

Chivas USA, too, will be competing in the semifinals of the Open Cup, travelling to Seattle on Wednesday. But Vásquez refused to concede Sunday’s match without fight, and used his first team.

“We still have an opportunity in league play,” he said. “We’re not going to throw in the towel. We’re going to keep taking it one game at a time. Playing at home – we needed to get a win and that will give us confidence for Wednesday’s game.”

While the Red-and-White are glad to have moved within one point of Houston at the bottom of the conference, they aren’t resting on their laurels just yet. The team knows it must continue to improve if there’s any hope of a playoff spot.

“I’m happy with the effort that our guys gave to keep the zero and win the game,” said Vásquez. “But we could have kept the ball better at times. If our last pass were better, we could have killed the game. That’s what you hope to do when you go up in a game. We could have made it easier on ourselves.”