Alecko Eskandarian
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Big goal for Chivas? Second round

In three-plus years of existence, Chivas USA have had plenty of achievements. The club won the Western Conference a year ago, had a player win Goalkeeper of the Year and two coaches walk away with Coach of the Year honors in successive seasons.

But there is one accomplishment the club must attain if the Red-and-White wants to achieve the ultimate level of success: the club must win a playoff series for the first time. Chivas USA will get their chance starting Saturday against fellow 2005 expansion side Real Salt Lake as the two teams will meet in the Western Conference semifinal.

"If we want to feel like it's a successful season we would have to say that getting past the first round would be necessary, especially with the way the year has gone and the way last year went," Chivas USA midfielder Jesse Marsch said. "It's been a battle for us for sure. I think that were trying to create a real winning mentality here and just getting to the playoffs can't be good enough."

In 2006, Chivas USA pieced together a competitive season for the first time and walked away with a playoff spot, helping earn then-coach Bob Bradley the Coach of the Year award. Though the end was disappointing -- Houston knocked Chivas USA out -- the club laid the foundation for future successes.

A year ago, Brad Guzan won Goalkeeper of the Year and Preki was named Coach of the Year but again Chivas USA crashed out of the postseason despite winning the conference regular season title.

This season, the club has reached the playoffs yet again. Beating Real Salt Lake in the playoffs would be an important and historic step for Chivas USA. Still, players tried to keep the focus on the task at hand.

"It's very important but we're not worried about making history, we're worried about making the best out of this season with this team," forward Alecko Eskandarian said. "We feel that we have a good group of guys that has a chance to do something special."

Eskandarian is one of several players on the squad that has been to the deep stages of the MLS playoffs before. In 2004, Eskandarian walked away with the MLS Cup Most Valuable Player award in a 3-2 D.C. United win against Kansas City.

Now, the former top SuperDraft pick said he needs to take on some added responsibility.

"I had a great experience when I was in D.C., all four years being in the playoffs," Eskandarian said. "It's a different game and maybe some guys who havent been in the playoffs might not be ready to expect that. It will be my job and the other veterans job to kind of pick up the pace in practice a little bit and show them what its going to be like."

In previous playoff failures, Chivas USA counted on a few former MLS Cup champions. This season, though, the team will have more experience than ever before and that, players said, will make a difference.

Among possible starters in Saturday's first leg in Real Salt Lake, the club could count on previous champions in Zach Thornton, Carey Talley, Marsch, Paulo Nagamura, Ante Razov and Eskandarian.

"You look on our roster and the one good thing about this year is that we have a bit more experience, we have some guys who have won some championships and have gone late in the postseason," Marsch said. "Hopefully we can bring a little of that experience to our team and hopefully it will add up to something that gives us a chance to win these big games at big moments." Chivas USA's goal is simple. The club wants to play a home game for MLS Cup. Beating Real Salt Lake and winning their first-ever playoff series thus is simply part of the task.

"If this team is looking for the championship, obviously," midfielder Paulo Nagamura said. "We are not thinking about just getting past Salt Lake. We are thinking about getting to MLS Cup. We have to play Salt Lake first and do a good job against them and then after that do a good job with other teams."

No matter what happens, Chivas USA players said they know that anything can happen in November.

"Our goal is definitely to get past that first round but with that said it's a crapshoot. It's tough in MLS. There are always upsets and things like that," Eskandarian said. "We just have to come out there and not worry about any extra pressure and winning for the first time and things like that. We just have to go in there and win the series against Salt Lake. They haven't made the playoffs either."

Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.