In its eighth year of operation, Chivas USA has paved its path to a different future.
Antonio and Lorenzo Cue, brothers who were co-owners of the team along with Jorge Vergara, are out. Vergara and his wife, Angelica Fuentes, have assumed control of Chivas USA, which joined MLS in 2005 wearing the same red-and-white uniform made famous by its parent club Guadalajara, which Vergara bought in 2002, but hasn't taken root in Southern California.
Whether the Cues were bought or forced out isn't known, but what's certain is that dramatic changes are imminent. General manager Jose Domene denied via Twitter reports of his firing and head coach Robin Fraser, whose team is well out of the playoff spots and has scored a league-low 17 goals this season, can't be feeling too secure.
Yet whatever happens with staff and coaches and players in the short-term, the long-term future of the team is quite unclear. When it joined MLS, Chivas USA agreed to onerous conditions other teams had avoided by building their own stadiums. It pays a lease fee of more than $1 million per year to Anschutz Entertainment Group, which also controls Chivas USA's marketing and sponsorship rights as well a portion of the ancilliary revenues generated by its games at Home Depot Center.
Whatever the rationale for Vergara and Cue agreeing to such conditions, the franchise has faltered as its glamorous co-tenant has flourished. Unilke the gamble on David Beckham, the Chivas USA Experiment blew up in the lab.
A succession of presidents and general managers have come and gone as the club has altered and revamped its identity without finding a substantial audience, and after a run of three straight playoff appearances (2006-8) under Preki, the team has joined the also-rans.
With the 10-year lease and marketing agreements signed with AEG set to expire in 2014, suspicion abounds that the club will be sold and moved to one of several cities -- San Antonio, St. Louis, Orlando -- vying for an expansion team. MLS commissioner Don Garber has repeatedly stated the league will probably cap its membership at 20 teams once another team is added, and since Chivas USA is one of the few teams that doesn't play in its own facility, it's the prime candidate to head elsewhere. Negotiating a buyout with AEG would probably be cheaper than continuing to accrue losses at HDC.
On the field, aside from legendary international defender Claudio Suarez and a few other first-teamers, Chivas USA seldom drew great benefit from its assocation with the club which is famous for signing only Mexican players. Much of the time it more resembled any other MLS team -- a mix of Americans and foreigners drawn mainly from Concacaf and South American countries -- than a Guadalajara outpost.
The team would have to be renamed, of course. Such a move would probably end forever speculation, which reached fairly virulent proportions not that long ago, that another Mexican club -- Club America, Monterrey and Pachuca were among the clubs wooed by MLS, or vice versa -- would also buy into the league.
Chivas USA officials admitted a while back the team was searching for a Southern California location to build its own stadium. That isn't out of the question -- though other cities seem to have much greater potential -- but there doesn't seem to be any reason to keep the team's close affiliation with the parent club in Guadalajara.
MLS broke new ground by trying out the concept of a Chivas USA, but its future as is looks bleak.