Expect Change at Chivas USA
By Simon Allen
Back in August of 2004, Jorge Vergara stood in front of a crowd of about 300 Chivas soccer fans and spoke of the new MLS Franchise and claimed “...We're going to be the best team in the United States...I promise all of you that Chivas USA is going to be from the start just like Chivas in Mexico: a team of excellence and an open door for Spanish speakers.
Flash forward to 2012 and Chivas USA have missed playoffs for the third year in a row. LA's other team will not represent the city in the postseason.
Back in '04 I was actually excited about having a second team in Los Angeles. It was an opportunity for a real honest to goodness derby in America. I envisioned the Home Depot Center as a powder keg ready to explode when the Los Angeles Galaxy played Chivas USA. A lot of people shared my excitement. The late and much missed LA Galaxy President and General Manager, Doug Hamilton proclaimed “We...welcome the Los Angeles expansion team and look forward to beginning MLS' first real derby...Let the fun begin...”
Vergara was just the man to bring that fun. Vergara was a man that started out as a salesman and ended up owning a football team- a Real Success Story. He also brought with him a successful business man Antonio Cue to run the show. “Our team will become a rallying point for Chivas” said Cue “This team's goal is to be an entertaining, primarily Spanish-speaking squad which will attract soccer fans from all backgrounds.”
In 2005 MLS Commisioner Don Garber talked to the Los Angeles Times about the Chivas expansion project, “ (It) is something that we hope will be a smashing success and can potentially be replicated with other international clubs. We have been in discussions with a handful of European teams, to be unamed for now, that are interested in what we are doing with Chivas and are watching closely”
That was a great feeling to have back in 2005, about the same time I started my podcast and talking about the league I had been watching since day one. MLS fans would talk about Chivas USA doing well in hopes that in the future there would be a BarcaMiami or a Tampa Bay Red Devils. But the closest thing we got to a Euroclub in America was Real Salt Lake.
I was very happy at the time to see a Mexican team in MLS. I remember the original roster had 24 Hispanic players. It was fun to watch Francisco Palencia, Ramon Ramirez and “El Pulpo” play in America. As an LA Galaxy fan I knew the excitement level that Mexican players like Jorge Campos, Carlos Hermosillo and “El Matador” brought to the game and I hoped that Chivas USA could replicate that excitement come match day. Chivas USA's first ever match (I was there) was against DC United. The crowd was at 18,493 people, no where close to a sellout but the atmosphere was there. The passion was there and even as Joshua Gros and Christian Gomez ruined Chivas' debut in Los Angeles there was an air of optimism.
After the first year, Chivas USA suffered from an Identity Problem. I felt it when I entered HDC to watch them but I couldn't put my finger on it. Soccer Writer Brian Straus explored the topic in 2010. He wrote “...More compelling (is) the team's identity. Who goes to a party and gives the middle finger to 75% of the guest upon arrival? That is, in essence, what Chivas USA did. Their Mexican name and Spanish-first policy certainly wouldn't endear the club to American fans, while the affiliation with the parent club and red-and-white striped jerseys would turn off every Mexican who loved to hate Chivas.”
Later, around the time David Beckham was first being talked about in LA circles, Chivas USA decided that it would be a Los Angeles club. It would be a club full of homegrown players. I accepted that idea as logical. If the LA Galaxy was going to be the club with superstars then the it's home-town rival would counter that with soccer players from their own back yard. Truly a local club for LA. One player to emerge from that philosophy was Jorge Antonio Villanfana. One of my favorite players on the squad, he won Sueno MLS, a soccer reality show that got his place on the team. It would have been an amazing sight to have seen if 4 or 5 players on the first team were local lads. But the idea didn't last long.
When David Beckham dominated the American Soccer circles, Chivas USA began campaigns stating that their club was for real fans of the game. A jab at Galaxy fans presumably. Shortly afterwards in 2011 ChivasUSA decided to pickup Juan Pablo Angel from the Los Angeles Galaxy. This looked like a departure from their idea of local players and to me, it looked like an attempt to keep up with their landlords by bringing in a big name player. In 2012, the club added two Designated Players to the roster. Ecuadorean, Oswaldo Minda and MLS mainstay Shalrie Joseph from the New England Revolution.
As of today there are No Mexicans on the roster for Chivas USA, only seven players are Spanish Speaking and their biggest success stories so far have been American players such as Jonathan Bornstein, Sacha Kljestan and Brad Guzan who have moved on to better clubs outside of America.
On August 29th of this year Vergara bought out Cue and became sole owner of Chivas USA and just this week named Jose David as president of the team. Also joining the goats is Jose Luis Real, who in the words of David “...will supervise all soccer operations for Chivas USA-including coaching staff, players, academy and player development.”
Don Garber also talked to Sports Business Daily about Chivas USA “We've got a handful of clubs that we want to put league resources behind...particularly the reconfiguration of the owneship group in Los Angeles with Chivas. We think there is an opportunity to build a stadium in downtown Los Angeles. That's a team we want to see rise up and create more excitement in the local market.”
So with the shakeup in the backroom and the announcement that MLS will help ChivasUSA with marketing and perhaps a new stadium downtown...what will the newest version of Chivas USA be? I only hope that it won't be a massive rebranding. I certainly don't want LA Aztecs making a comeback! I'm also glad that I'm not hearing any talks about the franchise moving to San Diego or anywhere else for that matter. I want Chivas USA to do well in Los Angeles. There needs to be a fierce rivalry in LA and fierce rivalries don't work well when one team always dominates the other.
I was sitting, Row A, at the last Chivas USA home match last weekend. Something I've done ever since Chivas USA joined the league. It's still one of the most affordable tickets in town and it's still a brilliant atmosphere. The Union Ultras and The Black Army are brilliant supporters groups. The Pre-match activities are always fun, the food and drink and playing keepy-uppy with fans in the parking lot is great and no surprise here...I like the Chivagirls. Throughout the philosphy changes and different ad campaigns...those core things haven't changed. No matter how badly the team has performed, the sights, the smells and the sounds of match day are the things that draw you back to the stadium.
In the upcoming months Chivas USA will have to make some difficult decisions about players. After last weekends performance I believe there will be a massive change. In personel ( Efrain Flores will replace Robin Fraser) and in philosophy. It will be interesting to see what happens and how it will effect next season's Superclassico. More importantly it will be interesting to see if Chivas USA will step out of the shadows of the Galaxy and stop being merely LA's other soccer team.