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Is Jose Domene the visionary Chivas USA needs?
by Ridge Mahoney, March 31st, 2011 1:18AM

TAGS:  chivas usa, mls


[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 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.

  1. David Huff
    commented on: March 31, 2011 at 12:14 p.m.
    The real problem with this team, which Preki, then Vasquez and now Fraser faces is that the owners have never decided to step up and support the team by opening their wallets to spend on acquiring a higher level quality player(s)player while all the time they have to play in the shadow of the Galaxy who routinely have thrown money at the team on DPs (currently at three with Donovan, Beckham and Angel). Now that Guzan, Borstein and Kledjstan are gone what do they have in the pipeline? The cheapskate behavior of Cue and Vergara is frustrating when one considers that they are amongst the richest men in Mexico and have inherited the proud tradition of Chivas Guadalajara. Domene and Fraser seem like good choices but without proper support I fear they will leave just like Preki did. Preki was a better coach than the Galaxy's Arena, he just wasn't given the necessary tools to take the team up to the required higher level. This lack of support and the MLS' meddling in the USMNT led me to give up my season seats this year after 3 consistent years of support by our family, I simply had no confidence in the team's direction under the present owners. Its really a shame because of those who dislike the corporate AEG atmospere that permeates the Galaxy really enjoyed the alternative provided by Chivas Los Angeles.

  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: March 31, 2011 at 12:38 p.m.
    Well, what can I say but muchas gracias, Ragin Ridge, for your informative essay. As one who has been around the block and then some here in the Los Angeles soccer scene for the past four decades, I can only tell you that when Senores Vergara and Cue announced their intent to bring in a fascimile of the Chivas, there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air which quickly deflated when they named the head coach, and which in turn only helped expand the leak in the wishful thinking balloon. Also as one of many others who have virtual daily contact with the community, I can categorically tell you that the Chivas USA fan base is not what it ought to be for the Club, and even those folks that hail from Guadalajara show a deeply sad dislike for Chivas USA. Vergara and Cue made crucial errors thinking that by bringing in Rongen - who had the least amount of knowledge about the Los Angeles potentially humungous fan base, and then again bringing in some supposed marquee players (read this "over the hill types") from Chivas Mexico would have the fans running like mad to get tickets. Further, the front office's front office really did not know the lay of the land, and made mistake after mistake, serving to only turn off the true-red and white Chivas fan. Then bringing in Westerhoff, followed by Banality Bradly, who has demonstrated a deep hypocritical stance and anti-Latino players bias as the NT "coach," then Preki.. sure as heck didn't do much. As for Haskel and Hunter, both of these guys' knowledge of the potential fan base was nil. Can't say much for Leon, he was almost like a "silent" GM and it now remains to be seen if Domene will right the ship - except that my bit of advise to him is to make sure you don't have nilly-willy turn over in your front office, and get a real director of sales, community relations persons behind those desks, who really know how to seel to the fan base and have a real connection with the community and most importantly, are soccer knowledgable 'cause right now, the Chivas boat appears to be rocking. As for Fraser, I hope he can do something worthwhile, yet the club's history as so aptly described above, is not too bright and if he IS given a chance then he might do good, but do him in like they did to Vazquez. So it is a hearty buena suerte Senor Domene, y si necesitas una manita, comunicate conmigo usando este sitio porque yo si se de lo que digo y hablo. .

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