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New coach brings Chivas USA back to its roots
by Ridge Mahoney, December 2nd, 2009 7AM

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[MLS] Two down, three to go. Chivas USA is hiring of former Mexican and U.S. international Martin Vasquez as its new head coach, leaving three teams - D.C. United, Chicago, and New York - with the position yet to be filled.

Vasquez, who turns 46 on Christmas Eve, replaces Preki, who left by mutual consent three weeks ago after the Galaxy knocked Chivas USA out of the playoffs at the conference-semifinal stage for the third consecutive season.

 

Vasquez is the fifth head coach in the team's five seasons of operation, following Hans Westerhof, Thomas Rongen, Bob Bradley and Preki.

Toronto FC swooped in to sign Preki as its replacement for Chris Cummins less than a week after his departure from Chivas USA had been officially announced, though schisms between Preki and team management had been bubbling for much of the regular season.

Sources have stated Preki balked at directives regarding personnel and other team issues emanating from parent club Guadalajara and team owner Jorge Vergara, who launched Chivas USA as an MLS expansion team in 2005 but had retreated into the background after a disastrous first season.

Not counting the brief tenure of interim head coach Arturo Javier Ledesma, Vasquez's hiring represents the first native-born Mexican coach to head Chivas USA. A native of Yahualica, Mexico, he moved with his family to Southern California when he was 12 and attended Cal State Los Angeles before playing pro soccer on both sides of the border before retiring in 1999.

Vasquez knows MLS well, having played for Tampa Bay and San Jose and working as an assistant coach with the Galaxy and Chivas USA.

As head coach of Bayern Munich, former German international Juergen Klinsmann brought Vasquez to Germany as his assistant, but he returned to the USA last April when Klinsmann was dismissed. Vasquez soon emerged as a possible replacement for Preki as the team fell off the top of the Western Conference standings and players arrived on loan from Mexico instead of possible acquisitions the coach had targeted.

Vasquez also the first Chivas USA head coach to speak fluent Spanish, which should give the team a much clearer identity than it has had in the past and bring the club back closer to what Vergara forecast for the team when he invested in MLS. But most die-hard Guadalajara fans living in the area rejected the team and/or the MLS product, which forced a strategic re-think.

In the past few seasons, the team had moved away from its Mexican heritage and presented the same multicultural face as many other MLS teams, with most of the non-American players on its roster of Concacaf origin. Cuban striker Maykel Galindo has been with the club for three seasons, yet speaks little English, causing a language gap that Vasquez can bridge.

Rongen didn't last through the first season, and Westerhof, director of the parent club's youth development programs, finished up before Bradley took over in 2006. Bradley left after one season to coach the U.S. national team and handed to the reins to Preki, who had been his assistant.

"I think they gave up on what defined them, at least at first, too early, even though I can understand why they did it," says Alexi Lalas, who left his post as Galaxy GM last year and once worked with Shawn Hunter, a former Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) executive hired as Chivas USA president and CEO two years ago. "I wouldn't presume to speak for Shawn Hunter or tell him what he should do, but this will not only appeal to the fans they already have, but that potential fan base that does exist.

"He can say, 'Well, maybe this is not your father's Chivas, but it's not entirely different either.' Just having a coach who can speak fluent Spanish and English is a big plus with the fans and the press, and the players."

Vasquez, who was a Chivas USA assistant coach in 2005-08, will have numerous player issues to resolve right out of the gate. Injuries have decimated the team the past two seasons, and veterans such as Jesse Marsch, Sacha Victorine and Ante Razov are either entering option years or will be out of contract.

Team icon Claudio Suarez played just 111 minutes last season. Jesus Padilla, Yamith Cuesta and Maicon Santos arrived on loan from Mexico in midseason, and striker Eduardo Lillingston and Mariano Trujillo contributed in the first half of the season but were on and off the bench in the final months.

"He's an articulate guy and an intelligent guy," says Lalas. "This brings them closer to what they came into the market as, and maybe off the field they had to go through this process. But it doesn't matter what language you speak if you don't have a successful and entertaining team."

 



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