[MLS PLAYOFF PREVIEW]Whether or not the Magic of Yura Movsisyan arises yet again, Chivas USA must get its house in order at Home Depot Center. After losing just once in 16 home games (counting playoffs) last year, it dropped four matches at HDC this season, including a loss to Real Salt Lake in mid-June. And all RSL needs to win this series is a tie, thanks its 1-0 lead on Movsisyan's remarkable back-heeled goal in the final seconds of regulation at Rio Tinto Stadium last weekend.
"I don't think we've always brought the same intensity to our home games like we did last season, and it's cost us some points," says midfielder Sasha Kljestan. "We know we can't get away with that in the playoffs so we have to be ready to get whatever result we need to advance."
Chivas USA needs to win by two goals or on penalties, the same situation it faced last year after losing the first leg in Kansas City, 1-0. Striker Maykel Galindo has undergone another sports hernia procedure and forward partner Ante Razov isn't fully healthy. On the plus side, forward Alecko Eskandarian, midfielder Sacha Victorine and defender Claudio Suarez may return after missing the first leg with injuries.
Coach Preki has some critical personnel decisions to make. Jonathan Bornstein, who normally plays on the outside, played his first game as a central defender last week in place of Suarez. Preki must decide whether to keep the far more experienced Zach Thornton in goal, or reinstate starter Dan Kennedy, who missed last week's game due to suspension. There are also choices up front, as rookie Justin Braun scored four goals during the regular season but the coach might prefer the experience of Razov and Eskandarian.
RSL outshot Chivas USA, 21-3, last weekend while controlling much of the play in midfield. The presence of RSL playmaker Javier Morales will force Chivas USA to contain him while it probes for scoring opportunities through Kljestan and his midfield mates, who must contend with the plucky Will Johnson, a robust Kyle Beckerman, and perhaps the crafty Clint Mathis.
"Last year it was the same type of thing," said Francisco Mendoza on mlsnet.com. "Salt Lake is going to come in and defend, sit back and wait for a counterattack and they are going to want to make us desperate. We're just going to have to keep our heads. If we come out with patience and intelligence, that's how we'll come out ahead."
After stumbling the past two years in the playoffs, Chivas USA has to be at least a little bit desperate to get the job done at home.
"It's not like it's been an easy go getting to where we are," says Chivas USA midfielder Jesse Marsch. "There have been some really tough days and some really frustrating times, but for the most part, this locker room is pretty resilient, mostly because it's a good group of guys.
"Come playoff time, you want to find a way to be playing your best football of the year, and there's a real good vibe to what's going on here right now."
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS Game 2
CHIVAS USA vs. REAL SALT LAKE(0-1)
Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET (Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Sports en Espanol)