Jesse Marsch has been here before. The veteran Chivas USA midfielder won Major League Soccer championships with D.C. United in 1996 and 1997 and the Chicago Fire in 1998.
So, when Chivas clinched first place in the Western Conference last weekend and the champagne was flowing freely in the locker room, Marsch chose to look ahead, not back.
"Listen, I'm happy for this club and I see why the celebration is taking place," he said. "They went through a lot three years ago. Last year we made a lot of big steps and obviously this year has been a pretty good year.
"But for me, this is very premature, this whole celebration thing. There's still a lot of work to do. I'm a little uncomfortable with it. I want the guys to enjoy it. I want the club to enjoy it. But I also want us to feel like we're not going to be satisfied unless we're celebrating with the final trophy."
That would be at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., where the league's championship game takes place Nov. 18.
The MLS playoffs begin today and continue Saturday, with eight teams vying for the title. Four of them have won it before; four others are seeking their first championship.
The quarterfinals will be a two-game series -- one game at each city -- with the winners determined by aggregate goals. The winners advance to the conference finals, both one-game affairs at the home of the higher-seeded team.
Here is a look at each quarterfinal series:
D.C. United vs. Chicago Fire: D.C. United has won the title four times, most recently in 2004, and has the added impetus of playing host to the MLS Cup final and featuring the league's top goal scorer, Brazilian striker Luciano Emilio (20 goals). So D.C. United comes in as a solid favorite. But the Fire is unbeaten in its last eight games and Mexican icon Cuauhtemoc Blanco (four goals, seven assists) brings an unpredictability that could cause an upset. D.C. United won the regular-season series, 1-0-2, but Chicago is 4-0-1 against D.C. United in the playoffs.
New England Revolution vs. New York Red Bulls: Under Coach Steve Nicol, the Revolution has reached the MLS final in three of the last five seasons, only to lose each time. This season, it finally won its first trophy, the U.S. Open Cup. The Revolution, led by the U.S. pair of Taylor Twellman (16 goals) and Steve Ralston (a league-high 14 assists), won the regular-season series, 2-0-1. New York is powered by Colombian striker Juan Pablo Angel, the league's second-leading scorer with 19 goals. Coach Bruce Arena won the first two MLS championships as coach of D.C. United.
Houston Dynamo vs. FC Dallas: Houston has the ability to become the first team since D.C. United in 1998 to successfully defend its title. Goalkeeper Pat Onstad's goals-against average of 0.82 was the league's best in 2007, and the Dynamo defense allowed a league-low 23 goals, the fewest in MLS history. Houston was not beaten by Dallas in the regular season, going 3-0-1. Dallas has been inconsistent, but its one bright spot has been the midfield play of Colombian Juan Toja (six goals, one assist). Guatemalan striker Carlos Ruiz led the team with seven goals and two assists.
Chivas USA vs. Kansas City Wizards: Only a couple of weeks ago, Chivas would have been the heavy favorite. Coach Preki's side was unbeaten at home all season and was playing the sort of fluid soccer that wins fans and titles. Then injuries sidelined Ante Razov and slowed Maykel Galindo, the team's top goal scorers. Winning now is more problematic, especially against a Kansas City team that features U.S. striker Eddie Johnson (15 goals, fourth-best in MLS) and defender Jimmy Conrad. The teams split their two games. The playoff difference could be Chivas goalkeeper Brad Guzan (a league-high 13 shutouts).