[MLS] So where does Chivas USA go from here? The MLS team searching for an identity is in crisis once again, having dismissed Coach Martin Vasquez earlier this week after his first season in charge ended with a last-place finish in the Western Conference and a record of 8-18-4.
Last Saturday, vice president of soccer operations Stephen Hamilton told ESPN.com that Vasquez wouldn’t be leaving. Meetings of club executives in the ensuing days altered those travel plans and on Wednesday came notice he’d been dismissed. Only Hamilton has spoken on the record about Vasquez’s dismissal.
“This was a difficult decision for our organization to make,” Hamilton told MLSsoccer.com. “We sat down with the team’s soccer committee … and thought through it. Everyone at Chivas USA has a great deal of respect for Martin. Unfortunately, after this difficult season came to a close, we decided to move in a different direction."
Its 28 points in the standings topped only the feeble efforts of D.C. United (6-20-4, 22 points), and fell far short of the 46 points registered by San Jose and Colorado, which filled the bottom two playoff spots. Under Vasquez, the defense deteriorated: it conceded 45 goals, an increase of 14 from 2009.
Vasquez’s predecessor Preki had issues with some of his players, but he did guide Chivas USA to three straight playoff appearances.
The players brought in by Vasquez didn’t make significant impacts either because of injury or mediocre performances: midfielder Rodolfo Espinoza (one goal and three assists in 15 games), striker Giancarlo Maldonado (two goals, one assist in 10 games), midfielder Osael Romero (one goal in nine games), etc. Since the hiring of Vasquez last December, 17 players departed; they retired, were released, transferred, loaned, or selected in the expansion draft.
Rookie midfielders Ben Zemanski and Blair Gavin played several strong games in midfield early in the season as the team started out at 3-3-1, but they struggled for playing time as the season unraveled. Defenders Michael Umana and Dario Delgado didn’t provide the upgrade of quality the team needed, and once Sasha Kljestan had departed for Anderlecht, only occasionally did Chivas USA sparkle in the attacking third. And Kljestan, passed over by U.S. coach Bob Bradley for the World Cup, contributed just one goal and three assists in 10 games. Nobody on the team registered more than three assists.
Team management and the new head coach will also have to replace Jonathan Bornstein, a constant presence on the left side for the past four seasons. His departure to Mexican club UNAL Tigres leaves a huge hole on the field and also in the team’s image, as his popularity with fans had been instituted since he earned a spot in the starting lineup. But that’s just one section of the Chivas USA institution that needs extensive renovation.
Vasquez follows in the footsteps of Hans Westerhof, Thomas Rongen, Bob Bradley, and Preki: five coaches in six seasons. The sixth will have some pieces to work with; forward Justin Braun scored nine goals, and winger Jesus Padilla – though plagued by inconsistency – netted six. Right back Mariano Trujillo led the team in minutes played with 2,517 and started in all 28 of his appearances.
Last week, Hamilton had said, “The things we saw in him previously, we still see in him, and I think he’s going to benefit from a year of experience as a head coach. This is his first go as a head coach, so I think he’s learned a lot. And talking to him in private, the conversations we’ve had, I feel good about him, the things he wants to do going forward.”
By Wednesday, the search was on. Reports of former MetroStar and Galaxy coach Octavio Zambrano attending late-season games at HDC had prompted rumors of a change and the occasional presence of Juergen Klinsmann will set off a few sparks. A few fans are already buzzing the Internet with calls for former Chivas USA midfielder Jesse Marsch, who retired from playing last year to join the U.S. national team as an assistant coach.
“Right now, we're open-minded,” Hamilton said. “It's too early to say anything for sure, but we want to find somebody with whom we feel the most comfortable to get us back on track. We want to get back into the playoffs and be challenging for the championship.”