On Saturday night in Santa Clara, Calif., Chivas USA clinched its third consecutive playoff berth with a 1-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes in front of a standing-room only crowd of 10,502 at Buck Shaw Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University.
MLS Rookie of the Year candidate Justin Braun (Salt Lake City, Utah) put the Red-and-White ahead early, scoring off an Alecko Eskandarian pass in the 7th minute, to give Chivas USA a full share of the points and improve the Red-and-White’s record to 12-10-6 (W-L-T).
With two games remaining in the campaign, Chivas USA clinched a playoff berth for the third consecutive season. With 42 points, the Red-and-White can finish no lower than third place in MLS's Western Conference: Chivas USA holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Real Salt Lake (2 wins in 3 games this season); furthermore, Real Salt Lake (36 pts) and Colorado Rapids (34 pts) cannot both earn maximum points from their remaining matches, as they play each other on the final weekend of the regular season.
The result also moved Chivas USA to within one point of the Western Conference’s first-place team, the Houston Dynamo. However, the Dynamo have two games in hand over Chivas USA: Sunday's game vs. D.C. United and Wednesday’s game vs. San Jose, both at Robertson Stadium in Houston.
Rookie Justin Braun, who just a year ago was playing amateur soccer for club side Olympique Montreux in a Utah men’s league, earned his fourth goal of the campaign, tying him with fellow rookie Kheli Dube of the New England Revolution. In total, Braun has played in 22 regular-season games for Chivas USA in 2008 (starting 10) logging 1154 minutes and recording 4 goals and 2 assists.
Offseason acquisition Alecko Eskandarian, who assisted on Braun’s goal, picked up his 2nd assist of the season, marking the fourth consecutive game he has earned either a goal or an assist. In just 9 appearances this season, Eskandarian now has 5 goals and 2 assists; Chivas USA is currently 6-0-0 in games Eskandarian has started.
2008 MLS Coach of the Year candidate Preki has now guided Chivas USA to the playoffs for the second consecutive year under his stewardship – despite fielding 26 different lineups in 28 games due to injury and international absence. In fact, Chivas USA has been missing an average of nearly 6 players a game to injury alone this season.
Once again, Chivas USA was without nine players due to injury and international absence: MF Dejair (R groin strain); DF Eric Ebert (R knee lateral meniscus surgery); FW Maykel Galindo (sports hernia surgery); MF Paulo Nagamura (R knee sprain); GK Zach Thornton (L hamstring tear); DF Lawson Vaughn (L ankle ligament insufficiency); and MF Raphael Wicky (R ankle surgery); as well as Sacha Kljestan (USA vs. Cuba) and Shavar Thomas (Jamaica vs. Mexico).
Chivas USA Head Coach Preki, on the match: “I’m very happy with the result tonight, it’s a tough place to get a result and they’re a good team and I give full credit to our guys. We never panicked, we fought and when we needed to we created chances and were happy to take the win.” (A full quote sheet is available at cdchivasusa.com.)
Chivas USA was supported during the match by more than 50 enthusiastic members of the Union Ultras supporters group, who made the nearly 400-mile bus trip from Southern California to support the Red-and-White in its first away game at San Jose since 2005.
UPDATE: Chivas USA is scheduled to resume training Wednesday at The Home Depot Center ahead of Sunday’s match vs. Colorado.
Chivas USA will close the regular season with two consecutive home matches, first facing the Colorado Rapids on Sunday, Oct. 19, at noon, where the first 7500 fans through the gates will receive a limited-edition Chivas USA hat. The team then closes the season on Saturday, Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m. against the Houston Dynamo on Fan Appreciation Night, which features raffles, giveaways, and prizes for fans, including a special Chivas USA soccer ball.