[MLS] Though Robin Fraser is the man in charge of Chivas USA, he's quick to point out that his former Galaxy teammate Greg Vanney will be performing vital duties as an assistant coach. Three hours after their official unveiling at Home Depot Center, the pair took a few minutes to discuss their five seasons as teammates, and the bond that has developed between them during the last decade.
“We’ve probably been talking about coaching a professional team for about 10 years,” said Fraser, who helped develop a youth club in Arizona with Vanney before he took the job as RSL assistant coach in July, 2007.
“The game has taken us different places in the past decade, but we’ve always remained close and we’ve always had this vision of doing this together. So now that the opportunity comes up we jumped at it.”
For the past year, Vanney has run RSL’s residency program in Arizona at Grande Sports World, where he was director of soccer operations and communicated often with Fraser about everything from tweaking sessions to planning RSL’s two preseason visits.
“When we talk philosophically about our approach to the game, the way the game should be played, the way the game looks, we’re still closely aligned and it’s been part of our discussions for so long it’s almost natural to step into this position with him,” says Vanney. “Whatever responsibility he wants to give me that’s what I’m going to take on.”
Their coaching relationship goes back to their days as Galaxy players where they ran a much more modest operation.
“As Robin mentioned, our association goes way back,” says Vanney. “We coached together when we were playing together with a little club team. We worked together and developed a relationship as a coaching staff about how we did things. Those conversations never stopped.”
Fraser envisions a collective chain of command at Chivas USA, somewhat like the structure he worked with at Real Salt Lake. Head coach Jason Kreis hired Fraser as an assistant coach about two months after ending his playing career to stalk the sidelines, and though he’s interviewed for several head coaching jobs in the past few years Fraser can truthfully say only a very enticing opportunity could take him away from RSL.
“Everything was collectively done,” says Fraser, credited by Kreis and general manager Garth Lagerwey in game preparation by doing a lot of opposition scouting, and mentoring its excellent back line. “I feel like I have more experience than the average assistant, especially in the decision-making process, because we did everything collectively.
“I’ve been saying it and I’ll keep saying it, it was the best assistant coaching job in the country at the time, because it allowed all of us to grow so much. We all grew and as we did collectively the team grew as well.”
Chivas USA and RSL entered the league as dual expansion entries in 2005. They won a collective nine games in that initial season, then Chivas USA got on track while RSL stumbled and then slowly regained equilibrium under Kreis. RSL snuck into the playoffs on the final day of the 2008 season, and stunned Chivas USA on a 3-2 aggregate in the first round.
In 2009, both teams made the playoffs, but RSL captured the title. Chivas USA – eliminated in the first round for the fourth straight season -- dismissed Preki as head coach. Under his replacement, Martin Vazquez, Chivas USA won just eight of 30 games last year and finished last in the Western Conference. The club dismissed him in late October and by the end of 2010 its new direction had been chosen.
“I’m not going to sugar-coat it; this is a very big loss for us,” says Lagerwey. “Robin did a lot of our scouting and helped Jason with the tactical preparation of our team. He did an excellent job mentoring some of our young players and in particular our defenders. To lose him and Greg, who was in charge of our academy, at this point in the year is going to make it very difficult on us, but we’ll just make the best of it.”
The teams share one other element: a strong commitment to player development. Chivas USA started up an U-19 team in its expansion season. It has graduated several of its players to the first team, and lost others to clubs in Mexico.
Since Vazquez’s departure, he’s been followed out the door by president/CEO Shawn Hunter and vice president of soccer operations Stephen Hamilton, who assisted in the coaching search as a consultant. Interim general manager Jose Domene is heading the operation, amid suspicions that parent club CD Guadalajara is taking on a much greater influence.
One head coaching candidate, former Galaxy and U.S. national team head coach Steve Sampson, said he removed his name from consideration because of “control issues.” Fraser insists he has no such concerns, that operator-investor Antonio Cue and Domene have given him reign to run the competitive elements as he wishes.
“We wouldn’t have taken these positions if we didn’t think so," says Fraser, 44, eight years older than Vanney. “They’re about building from the ground up, about building a foundation for something that can be successful for a long time as opposed to a good year here and a good year there kind of thing.
“That’s a pleasing thing for us. We think they’re committed to the long-term success of the league and we’re going to help build the foundation to achieve that.”