[MLS] Chivas USA has removed "interim" from Jose Domene's title and he is now the team’s general manager, free and clear. He is No. 3 on the management depth chart behind operator-investors Jorge Vergara and Antonio Cue, and oversaw the selection of Robin Fraser as head coach once the decision was made last November to cut ties with Martin Vasquez, the fifth man to lose the job in five seasons.
Fraser is highly regarded for his playing career and work as an assistant coach with Real Salt Lake, and probably not destined to be cut loose after one season as was his predecessor.
When he came aboard MLS, Vergara smugly proclaimed his team would show the gringos how to play. He hired a few of them to coach his team, and a few more to run the show, and six seasons into the venture, Chivas USA is among the league leaders in head coaches and general managers and CEOs who have come and gone during that time.
Thomas Rongen, Hans Westerhof, Bob Bradley, Preki and Martin Vazquez have paved the way for Fraser; Whit Haskel, Javier Leon and Shawn Hunter preceded Domene. Leon, born in Mexico City, and Vasquez, a native of Yahualica, who played professionally on both sides of the border, couldn’t solve the problems of how to make an American offshoot of a beloved Mexican team popular playing in the shadow of -- and in the building owned by -- the glamorous Galaxy.
It started out as Chivas del Norte before re-branding as a blue-collar alternative to Beckham and the boys. It set records (since broken) for local sponsorship sales (believed to be between $4 million and $ 5 million) in its first season, yet despite ranking mid-tier in attendances is one of the teams languishing moderately deep in losses, partially due to the high lease payments and share of marketing and sponsorships paid out to AEG as a condition of their operating agreement.
Last year, under Hunter and Vasquez, Chivas USA finished last in the Western Conference yet maintained an average attendance of 15,574 and a slight drop of 3.4 percent from the previous season. Domene at first got involved as a consultant and moved into the interim GM role after Hunter last November announced his resignation. The hiring of Fraser is widely regarded as an excellent move in regards to improving the team itself; to Domene falls the tougher task of selling tickets and generating revenues.
His father was once president of UANL Tigres, so there is some management expertise in the pedigree. Leon grew up a devoted fan of Club America, yet couldn’t make it work, and eventually left his post to take a position with the Chicago Fire.
“I’ve had discussions with the owner and the general manager, and I’m extremely comfortable with how things are going to be done here,” said Fraser after being named head coach in early January.
“Honestly, when I came out of the interview with them I was really impressed with Antonio Cue and Jose Domene, and their vision of where they wanted to go. I walked out of it thinking, and told anyone who would listen, that it was a really, really good interview and these guys really know what they want.”
In a Q & A with mlssoccer.com this week, Domene gave no specifics as how he can improve the team’s popularity and marketing allure. Winning can help, yet during Preki’s tenure (2007-09), it qualified for the playoffs all three seasons yet fans complained about the team’s dour, defensive style. When his attempts to obtain players he wanted were blocked, a schism between him and club management opened wider and never was bridged.
A few days ago, Vergara emerged from long months of silence and said players could be heading to Chivas USA from the parent club this summer. Such “influence” from Mexico is one of the aspects of team operations that frustrated Preki; for his part, Fraser has no problems with it.
“I definitely don’t get that feeling at all,” said Fraser to inquiries about what might be perceived as meddling. “I think Guadalajara could be a great resource to us and we’re certainly looking at it that way.”
In the first two league games, hit by injuries and international callups, Chivas USA lost both at home while drawing crowds of 18,122 (for the opener) and 13,027. Tuesday it headed to Portland to face the Timbers in the U.S. Open Cup, and lost again, 2-0, after going down to 10 men when defender Andrew Boyens received a second caution late in the first half.
In the Q & A, Domene said of Fraser, “He has done a really good job of changing the mentality of the team and to make them better, not just in training but day-by-day and game-by-game. I think the guys are buying into his philosophy, they understand that this is a process. Robin really knows what he wants and our players understand that.”
There are still questions about what Vergara and Cue really want their team to be, beyond kicking butt on and off the field. To Domene has fallen the task of shaping a proud Mexican tradition into an American success story.