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Chivas is nearly at full strength

Marsch hopes to play today after being sidelined; Palencia, Suarez, Garcia are back.

October 22, 2006|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

Something unexpected occurred at Chivas USA's training session Saturday morning -- midfielder Jesse Marsch, who had been knocked silly in the team's regular-season finale Oct. 15, participated.

If that's an omen for Chivas' Major League Soccer playoff game this afternoon against the Houston Dynamo, it's a good one.

Marsch was an integral part of the Chicago Fire's 1998 championship team and has been just as important to Chivas this season. But the 11-year MLS veteran sat out for five days after his head was slammed into the turf following an aerial collision with Real Salt Lake's Atiba Harris.

It's still not certain Marsch will play today, but the chances are better than they were 24 hours ago.

"We'll see how he comes out of it," Coach Bob Bradley said. "Today was a big step forward. None of us expected it."

Said Marsch: "It just kind of rung my bell a little bit, but I'm feeling much better now."

There was good news on other fronts for Chivas. Talismanic striker Francisco "Paco" Palencia will return to the lineup. So will midfielder Juan Pablo Garcia. So will defender Claudio Suarez. All three starters had been sidelined by injury.

"I think this will be the closest we have to a full lineup in a while," Marsch said. "Everybody has a role on this team, and it's hard to lose any of them because they're all important in their own way. Bob creates an environment where everybody understands what their job is and what they're supposed to do on the field and what it's supposed to look like at their position. So it's nice to have everybody back."

Chivas and Houston have split four games this season, each winning once with two ties. When both are at full strength, there is little difference between them.

The Dynamo (11-8-13) finished second in the Western Conference, and Chivas (10-9-13) finished third.

Houston's scoring punch came primarily from Dwayne DeRosario (11 goals and five assists) and Brian Ching (11 and two), and Chivas relied on Ante Razov (14 and eight) and Garcia (eight and six).

"Of all the teams in the league, I think I have the most respect for them," Marsch said. "Their approach is they get after it. They have 11 guys who attack and defend, 11 guys who fight for each other.

"That's their character, and that's what they're about. That approach can be successful in this league, and that's why they've had a lot of good seasons in a row."

Houston, when it was still the San Jose Earthquakes with Frank Yallop as coach and Landon Donovan as inspiration, won the MLS title in 2001 and 2003 before relocating to Texas this year.

Under Dominic Kinnear, Yallop's assistant and a former U.S. international, the team has retained its style and it presents Chivas with a difficult challenge.

"DeRosario is capable of making a big play at any moment," Bradley said. "Ching is just a handful up front. And I think they are really dangerous on set pieces."

Meanwhile, Razov, Palencia, Garcia and Francisco "Panchito" Mendoza will set about making life difficult for the Dynamo defenders. And Marsch, if he plays, will be right in the thick of it.

TODAY

vs. Houston Dynamo, 1 p.m., ESPN2

Site -- Home Depot Center.

Radio -- 1020.

Records -- Chivas USA 10-9-13, Dynamo 11-8-13.

Record vs Dynamo -- 1-1-2.

Update -- This is the first playoff game for Chivas USA and the first for the Houston Dynamo, although the franchise made frequent playoff appearances as the San Jose Earthquakes. In four regular-season games, Chivas tied Houston, 1-1, and defeated it, 3-2, at the Home Depot Center, and lost to the Dynamo, 3-1, and tied it, 0-0, at Houston. Game 2 in the total-goals series will be played Oct. 29 at 5 p.m. PST at Robertson Stadium in Houston.

Tickets -- (877) 244-8271.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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