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CHIVAS USA 2, COLUMBUS 1

Unbeaten start liftsthe spirits

Players rejoice in the locker room after Atiba Harris and Eduardo Lillingston score goals to give the club a 3-0 record.

April 06, 2009|Grahame L. Jones

There is laughter in the Chivas USA locker room these days, laughter and the sort of camaraderie that comes from winning.

Take Jesse Marsch, for instance. One of Major League Soccer's original players, Marsch played his 301st regular-season game Sunday evening, a 2-1 win over the Columbus Crew at the Home Depot Center.

"It is a little bit depressing because I'm halfway through my career now," Marsch, 35, joked after Chivas USA's third consecutive victory.

So, is a 30-0 season in the cards?

"It's funny," Marsch said. "I had a buddy call and ask me about that this week, and I said, 'I promise we won't go 30-0.' "

All the same, Chivas USA is off to the best start in its five-season history.

With Sunday's victory, Coach Preki's squad kept pace with the expansion Seattle Sounders as the only two unbeaten and untied teams in MLS.

"It's a great start," Marsch said. "The best part for us, for our group, is that even though we're 3-0, I don't think we feel like we've played our best yet.

"It's a pretty humble group and even though in each game there have been good stretches, it's not been a complete game yet. We all know we've got work to do. Preki will remind us of that, but we're all aware that there's more to be done."

Meanwhile, Columbus is off to the worst start by a defending MLS champion. The Crew won the championship last season under Sigi Schmid, now coaching Seattle, but is 0-2-2 in 2009.

The previous worst start by a defending champion was shared by the Galaxy and the Houston Dynamo, which started out 0-1-3 in 2003 and 2008, respectively.

"Last season, obviously, was last season," said Crew coach and former Poland international Robert Warzycha, who took over from Schmid. "Everything was bouncing our way. This year we're facing some obstacles. In my mind, too many.

"This is a championship team. They won last year, so what can you teach them? They know how to play. If we play like we did in the second half today, I think we're going to get some points."

On Sunday the points went to Chivas, which got a goal from forward Atiba Harris in the 25th minute off a pass from midfielder Gerson Mayen and the game winner from Mexican striker Eduardo Lillingston five minutes into the second half.

In between, Andy Iro tied the game for Columbus when Chivas failed to clear the ball out of its penalty box and Iro was on hand to stab it home from close range in the 37th minute.

Later, the former UC Santa Barbara player had a more negative impact when he made a late, lunging tackle into the left shin of defender Carey Talley.

Referee Kevin Stott whipped out the red card so fast, ejecting Iro, that the bruise hardly had time to color before Iro was off the field.

Some solid play by goalkeeper Zach Thornton, who pulled off two fine reaction saves off close-range headers by Eddie Gaven, kept Chivas in control.

Thornton also tipped a goal-bound shot by Gaven over the crossbar.

"Zach was sharp tonight," Preki said. "He made a couple of good saves, and at the end of the day we found a way to win."

Chivas USA's next game is against the Galaxy on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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