Where they Finished Last Season: 7-18-9 (Did Not Make the Playoffs)
Pedigree: First place in the Western Conference, 2007.
Rivals: Los Angeles Galaxy
Coach: Jose Luis Real (Just took over for Jose Luis Sanchez Sola)
Top Returning Players: GK Dan Kennedy, DEF Bobby Burling, DEF Jorge Villafana,
Key Additions: MF Steve Purdy (Free Transfer,) MF Gabriel Farfan (New England Revolution,) MF Edgar Mejia (Loan- C.D. Guadalajara,) MF Carlos Alvarez (MLS SuperDraft,) FWD Julio Morales (Loan- C.D. Guadalajara.)
Key Departures: DEF James Riley (D.C. United,) MF Shalrie Joseph (Seattle Sounders,) MF Ben Zemanski (Portland Timbers,) FWD Alejandro Moreno (Retired,) FWD Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution.)
Young Player to Watch: Mejia
The point of this series has never been to talk down to any team. There are far too many people in the United States and the world, so-called “sports fans,” who will take anything negative that happens in football and MLS and spin it into their own narrative. The fans of MLS are some of the most loyal, knowledgeable fans in all of professional football, and they do not deserve to be treated like garbage. The whole point of this series is to articulate the positives and negatives of each team, to try and understand their club’s strategy, and to see where they are going with the direction of their franchise. For some teams it is pretty easy. For Chivas USA it is not. With the recent firing of Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, it is time to take a critical look at this club and try and figure out a path out of its current despair.
If you consider yourself a U.S. Soccer and MLS fan and have never heard about Chivas USA, you are not alone. Their actual name is not Chivas USA, but rather Club Deportivo Chivas USA. The team was originally founded 2004 and acts as a feeder club to Mexican League giant Club Deportivo Guadalajara. And no the team does not play in Mexico, but rather in the suburbs of Los Angeles sharing StubHub stadium with Los Angeles Galaxy. While Los Angeles Galaxy has flourished winning numerous MLS Cups, developed a strong fanbase, and securing a large television contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, Chivas plays in relative anonymity with no television deal, a sparse fanbase, and no real direction for the club.
The original idea behind having C.D. Guadalajara buy an MLS squad was not a terrible idea. MLS has always had great difficulties in breaking in to the Hispanic market. With more and more people coming in from Guatemala, Honduras, and of course Mexico every year there is certainly a market for soccer in this country. I have seen that MLS has been able to break through to different Latin American nationalities by bringing in local stars on their teams. There are still some Salvadorean neighborhoods in Washington D.C. that consider Raul Diaz Arce a soccer god. So the idea of a team that caters to Mexican-American soccer fans is not a terrible one.
The main difference between previous smaller efforts that the league tried with Latin American fanbases and Chivas USA is that the league worked with nationalities and countries, not with specific teams. This was a very poor judgment by the league. Not all Mexican- American soccer fans like C.D. Guadalajara. In fact, many fans hate C.D. Guadalajara. “I’ve said this before, the name ‘Chivas’ has done more to divide fans than to unite them. That’s what I’ve learned from years of ownership futility,” said John “ELAC” Sandate Chivas USA fan and presenter on podcasts such as What the Flock, Chivas USA podcast and Around the League, both of which can be found on the Champions Soccer Radio Network.
“In theory, we should have galvanized all Latinos since 2005. It really is a tragedy. Today, it all seems trite and fake.” If you are a Monterrey fan or a Tigres fan and you are caught wearing the red and white of Chivas, you are going to be in trouble. Soccer is not a pastime in Mexico. It is life. And for MLS to think that all Mexican soccer fans would just drop their allegiances and support Chivas USA because they are a Mexican team is a foolish decision, and brings up some serious questions on what MLS thinks about their Latino fans.
One thing to note here, and it is fundamental to understanding Chivas’ current tailspin, is that their parent club has never had a non-Mexican player play on its team. There are only Mexican players in their youth academy, Mexican coaches, and an all Mexican starting eleven. So it should surprise no one that in 2012 and 2013, Chivas USA ownership slowly started to remove players who are not Mexican or of Mexican origin. It would also be important to note that the club is being sued by two former coaches for allegedly being fired for not being able to speak Spanish. While I am not going to go into much detail about these allegations because we do not know if they are true or not, it is just another blemish on this team and only further hurts the club’s image.
While the club had some difficulties early on, trying to employ the same system as their parent club, around 2005 their fortune started to change. From 2005 to 2009, Chivas USA was one of the top clubs in MLS. During this stretch, Chivas finished first in the Western Conference in 2007, made the playoffs in four successive seasons, and featured the likes of Brad Guzan, Jesse Marsch, Ante Razov, Sacha Kljestian, and Jonathan Bornstein. Chivas was also the launching pad that Bob Bradley used to coach the United States Men’s National Team. But the club started to flounder again as Guzan, Kljestian, and Bornstein all left for Europe and the club’s CEO Shawn Hunter stepped down. In his place, C.D. Guadalajara majority owner Jorge Vergara took over and the club’s true downfall began.
The unfortunate part of the plan is that it has left the team absolutely bare. It would be one thing if Chivas management was bringing over top class young talent or veteran players who are looking to get back into form. They are not. Most of the players coming in are players like Martin Ponce and Giovanni Casillas, players who may end up being good utility players but who are projects. I am going to save my wrath for Edgar da Luna later. When your team gets rid of quality players like Shalrie Joseph, Juan Pablo Angel, Juan Agudelo, James Riley, and Casey Townsend and you replace them with kids, then you are facing disaster. Chivas may not have been able to predict that Alejandro Moreno would be retiring, but that is no excuse for their lack of mismanagement. If Chivas thinks firing Chelis will change anything, they are sorely mistaken. Coaches need players.
With the cupboards bare, it is no coincidence that this team cannot compete in the Western Conference. Well they could until they traded Agudelo for allocation money. While I would hate to say that one player makes the difference, if you watch the New England Revolution match from earlier this year and the Seattle match from last weekend it feels like you are watching two different teams. They cannot defend, they cannot score, and they have little to no chemistry. They have not had a single shutout this season, have only scored 13 goals, and have not won a game since March the 30th. It seems like Chivas’ problems stem from two things: one, they do not know very much about the style of play of MLS and two, they do not care.
From a defensive standpoint, they at least have a quality goalkeeper in Dan Kennedy. Kennedy, the nine year MLS veteran who has also spent some time in Chile with Municipal Iquique, has kept this team in most of their games this year. He has absolutely phenomenal vision, and seems to have a good understanding of his team’s defense. I think he also understands how young and inexperienced this team is and the need to educate his defenders and not yell at them.
Perhaps some teams would use their greatest strength in Kennedy to smart, compact defense and take their chances on offense on counter-attacks. That is not the method of their coach Chelis and C.D. Guadalajara. Chelis normally employed three backs and liked to bring defenders up on the attack. Unfortunately, with a defense that has 19 and 20 year olds and opposition that employs Robbie Keane, Obafemi Martins, Blas Perez, and Nigel Rio-Coker among others that is not a wise solution. This also makes the team very susceptible to chip shots, such as the goal that Seattle scored on them this past weekend. Also Mario de Luna’s own goal was the second worst own goal I have ever seen (which was somehow bested by the German goalkeeper’s in the USA-Germany match this weekend.)
If this team is to make anything out of this season, and not be bought out or folded, then there has to be some changes. Fortunately, there are some pieces on this squad to build around. Oddly enough after last season’s purge of non-Mexicans and influx of Mexican league-based players, their best addition did not actually come from C.D. Guadalajara. Joaquin Velasquez, who was picked up this offseason from Puebla, has been a godsend for a team needing veteran leadership in their backline and for a little bit of firepower from the defense. At 37, he is no spring chicken. But that is not what this club needs. They need leadership and someone to be able provide those short decisive passes to players who can drive the ball twenty-thirty yards down the field. I could also see Walter Vilchez getting more time as the season goes along.
I am really interested to see how his influence can rub off on a player like Jorge Mejia, who was shooting some rockets in the Chicago Fire earlier this year, but has been exposed on the counter-attack. I also like the raw talent and power of Jose Erick Coreia. The Colombian is a strong forward who was pushing around the Seattle defense for most of the game. He has to work on his finishing touch though. He had multiple chances in the Seattle match, but just could not convert. I am also intrigued by their first round pick in the MLS Superdraft, Carlos Alvarez. Chivas has a very poor history with the draft, but it apeears that they may luck with Alvarez. He is a strong midfielder who has shown an ability to expand the field with his passing.
The real crux of the issue with this team is the image. It cannot be a team that is solely for the C.D. Guadalajara fans. There are not enough C.D. Guadalajara fans in Los Angeles and enough MLS fans that want to be treated like second class citizens to root for this team under its current marketing. Mr. Vergara needs to go. Even if the allegations of discrimination are proven to be unfounded, the self-destruction that he has willingly imposed on this team is a disgrace to football, to Major League Soccer, and most importantly the Chivas USA fans.
There is a market for a second Major League Soccer team in Los Angeles, and there is certainly one for a team that caters to the Latin American audience. While the Galaxy are a great team, I am sure that there are plenty of hard working people in Los Angeles who want nothing to do with superstars. That is the nature of this game. For every River Plate fan, there is a Boca Juniors fan. For every Newcastle supporter there is a Sunderland douchebag. Local rivalries are built up because of economic and social differences. Los Angeles is large enough to support two quality teams.
While I always like to believe that every team has a chance to make the playoffs, I unfortunately do not see it in this team’s plans. I do see a team with a ton of heart, and with players like Kennedy, Velasquez, Steve Purdy, and Number Two Overall pick in this year’s MLS Super Draft Carlos Alvarez you get the feeling that this team will scrap in every game. But the Western Conference is just too strong and their Management is just a mess. My hope is that by the end of this year that this team will be on the rise and that the next time Jorge Villafana scores a goal, there will be somebody behind the goal to cheer for him.
Beer of Choice
Blue Moon Agave Nectar Ale, Blue Moon Brewing Company
“It’s crisp, refreshing, and smooth. All the things that Chivas USA is not. “
- ELAC, Chivas USA Supporter and What the Flock, Chivas USA podcast Presenter