Chivas USA: Major League Soccer’s Crisis Club
In 2004, Major League Soccer decided their eleventh franchise would be placed in the soccer hotbed of Southern California.
Rather than move the team to San Diego or another part of the area, the league’s brain trust and team owners arrived at the conclusion Los Angeles needed a second team. Of course what many Johnny come lately fans do not understand, is the MLS of 2013 resembles little of the league 10 years ago.
At the time MLS was struggling to find its footing in the American sports landscape, and adding a second team to the country’s second largest TV market was a better option than putting a team in other parts of the country.
And what better way to draw interest in the league than to attempt to create a buzz amongst the large Hispanic community in Southern California. That attempt was to enlist Chivas Guadalajara owners and place a “little brother” team at the Home Depot Center; wearing the same kits and carrying the same name. There were also plans for a Chivas brand in China, though it seems that fell through.
Looking back on Chivas USA now, it is easy to call MLS foolish and naïve for putting the club in, not only LA, but the league in general. However, a lot of opinions on the club are based on recent results and events. On the field, it is easy to forget that Chivas USA qualified for the playoffs in four consecutive years from 2006 to 2009. The team even finished first in the Western Conference in 2007, only two points shy of Supporters’ Shield winners DC United. However, in each season the club lost in the playoff quarterfinals. It is also easy to forget Bob Bradley and Preki both oversaw a tremendous amount of success at the club.
Many pundits try to justify the importance of the league’s playoffs, however, at the same time it seems Chivas USA has been dismissed although their four year span stands up to numerous other teams in the league. The franchise seems to be considered more of a joke than clubs that have achieved similar results in their time. What can’t be argued, though, is how poorly the club has been run in recent years, and the team’s off field problems seem to blur peoples’ on field perception of the club (though Chivas USA was woeful in 2012). Going one step deeper, writers have penned the franchise as the league’s “most puzzling and inept” team. Though I argue Toronto FC, New England and even on some level New York Red Bulls are equal or near equivalents with Chivas USA.
What is known is Chivas USA is now solely owned by Chivas Guadalajara owner Jorge Vergara. The Mexican business man has already stated the American team will have closer ties to the Mexican-based club. Most importantly, the club will stay in the Los Angeles area, despite interest from other MLS hungry cities (including Indianapolis and San Antonio); and the team is looking to build its own stadium.
All of this seems great news for the league’s team with the lowest average attendance in 2012. Though all of these remarks could merely be a PR power move to grow support and interest from fans, MLS and Los Angeles.
Interestingly, Vergara does not plan to re-brand the team ala Sporting KC, FC Dallas or New York Red Bulls, in an attempt to make the club more accessible to non-Chivas Guadalajara fans. Perhaps Vergara is missing the boat on making the team more appealing, but a winning record will go a long way to making the club more intriguing to soccer fans.
Recently, Jose Luis Sanchez Sola (known as Chelis) was appointed manager of the club. Chelis takes over for Robin Fraser, whose two seasons as manager were some of the worst imaginable. Fraser’s signing was similar to that of Jason Kreis and Ben Olsen, a former player given an opportunity to make his mark as a coach. Fraser even coached under Kreis at Real Salt Lake. In 68 games as coach, Fraser won less than a quarter of the team’s games, and his playing style did little woo fans.
Over the years, Chivas USA has had some excellent players (Sacha Kljestan, Jesse Marsch, Ante Razov, Brad Guzan), though the team’s current roster needs a mass overhaul. But in MLS, most teams are judged on whether they make the playoffs or not. If Chivas USA can accomplish this task in 2013, the crisis label Chivas USA has been given will most likely be forgotten. If the team cannot obtain a playoff berth, expect more fans clamoring for the team to up sticks and move cities or even fold completely.