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Time to pull plug on the Chivas USA Experiment?
by Ridge Mahoney, August 31st, 2012 2:03AM

TAGS:  mls


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.

  1. Robert Lee
    commented on: August 31, 2012 at 2:19 a.m.
    Why not move to San Diego?

  1. Tom Jedrzejewicz
    commented on: August 31, 2012 at 10:39 a.m.
    The Chivas branding experiment has failed, at least in LA. San Antonio is probably a better location for a "Chivas USA". I don't see a second soccer-specific stadium flourishing in metro LA. Whether the MLS club itself has failed is not clear. The article did not mention the state of the finances of the club. I suspect it is doing fine.

  1. Marc Silverstein
    commented on: August 31, 2012 at 10:41 a.m.
    Robert, there is no suitable stadium in San Diego.

  1. Paul Lorinczi
    commented on: August 31, 2012 at 10:49 a.m.
    What happened to the idea that they were going to use the CD Chivas approach as the Southern Cali team? Seems there is enough talent in Southern California to feed Chivas USA. I thought that was a great idea. What has changed?

  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: August 31, 2012 at 2:25 p.m.
    As usual Ragin' Ridge assessment while just a tad bit correct, is woefully lacking in depth. Why? because not much is mentioned about the HUGE Mexican fan base in the Greater Los Angeles many of whom call Guadalajara their "home base"and are fierce Chivas Guadalajara fans to the core. However, fair being fair, Vergara had pie-in-the-sky dreams of getting the Guadalajara Chivas fans flock by the thousands and across the vastness that is Los Angeles's freeway system (note: it is demographically known factoid that many of the Guadlajara Chivas fans live on the East side and various other cities, while the Home Depot Center is in the west reaches of "Southwest Los Angeles.)In '05 I attended the then presentation of the newly minted Chivas USA team's arrival, with Mariachi's playing, Vergara all a-tither, and several well known Mexican players, including Jorge Campos all touting the huge success the team would bring. As for the Cue brothers, nice guys for what this is worth, I feel they knew very little about the huge potential fan base, but sadly made little effort to REALLY reach out to it. In another comment I mentioned that most "real" and extremely vocally loyal Guadalajara Chivas fans disdain the Chivas USA brand, and the Cues, and other high ranking honchos had no clue or did not want to know their potentially large fan base. Immediately after the Club was introduced, talk of having them build a soccer specific stadium closer to the fan base was going through the rumor mill- one had them building an 18,000-plus seat soccer-specific stadium near the Coliseum and USC the old and decrepit LA arena. Sadly though, with AEG planning to construct a new American football stadium, this looks like another dream gone for naught. Additionally, talk was rampant that Chivas USA was going to build some sort of training facility in the East Side or even go to the Santa Ana Stadium, revamp and expand it but again, all talk and no action. As for failure, blame the Cue brothers who brought in a Coaches with little Spanish language abilities, the front office folks did little since they also had several "rejects" from the LA Galaxy Hamilton and Shawn with little knowledge of the fan base or the Spanish language, and for sure the hiring and firing of coaches, and some general managers wanting to micromanage the coaching side of the Club is it any wonder the coaches weren't given enough leeway? So what if Bradley and Preki did some good, but if blame is to be placed it should come down on the Cue brothers. And yes, Paul Lorinczi, YES, YES, YES!!! there is more than just "enough talent" in Southern California to "feed Chivas USA! As for a new locale? Not gonna happen, even though the Vergara's have the dinero, it would be more costly to move, BUT as for a new brand name how about "CHIVAS LOS ANGELES/GUADALAJARA = CHIVAS GD/LA." To be cliCheist: SI SE PUEDE!!!

  1. Karl Ortmertl
    commented on: August 31, 2012 at 4:59 p.m.
    I was always disappointed it wasn't an all Mexican team. I'd still like to see that. Also, they should be near the border in San Diego.

  1. Glenn Maddock
    commented on: August 31, 2012 at 7:20 p.m.
    wow, most of you guys are clueless. This was an all mexican team at the beginning and they were terrible. It was a disaster. Once they embraced a good mix of players they went to the playoffs. Mexican players arent that great. Unless you get a national team guy, you'll get bench players in MLS. Also, San Diego has no stadium, no financing, no ownership group. And no track record of supporting pro soccer any better than the attendence they are getting, and I live in San Diego. They need to move to a major city, ready to build a stadium, that will actually fill it with soccer fans. The Chivas connection has been pointless. Sell & move!

  1. Ray Shines
    commented on: September 1, 2012 at 11:08 a.m.
    It has not been said MLS will likely cap its membership at 20. They've used the term "pause," not "cap." That's simply wrong. And it doesn't matter how many fans of CD Guadalajara there are in Greater Los Angeles. They aren't fans of CD Chivas USA and aren't likely to be. They can tell the difference.

  1. Karl Ortmertl
    commented on: September 1, 2012 at 12:35 p.m.
    I guess I am clueless. There's a huge Mexican population in San Diego that could be tapped into. You're right that nothing is in place for that to happen and Qualcomm is probably not the best place to host a soccer team. But, the market potential is there. Also, I don't recall Chivas USA ever being all Mexican and I think there is a depth of Mexican talent, it's all in the Mexican leagues right now. I don't buy that for some weird reason there's really good players on the Mexican first team and then a huge gap after that.

  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: September 1, 2012 at 2:48 p.m.
    To Glenn Maddock: FYI, the "Vergara Group" initially wanted to mirror Chivas GDL (i.e.Guadalajara) however, he was cognizant enough to know that an "all (m)exican team (sic)" would not fly with MLS's nor would it attract the non-Latino fan base! Yes initially on the Chivas USA team there were at least three "top" Mexican NT players (by then over the hill bunch) that trying as they did, could just not attract the Chivas GDL fans, and I agree with RAY SHINES that fans know the difference. And lastly Mr. Maddock, do you live in the area (Los Angeles) to say "...most of you guys are clueless..."? So in my humble opinion the best scenario for the Vergara's Chivas Los Angeles is to remain in the Greater Los Angeles Area, hire "area and highly soccer knowledgeable" personnel from front office ticket sales community and corporate staff, a solid GM with the specific instructions NOT to micromanage the coaches who are having a hard-enough time looking over their shoulder, and most importantly, loosen the purse strings for top-quality player acquisition. It won't happen over night, as it has been all too painfully apparent to Senor Vergara, but all it needs is due diligence of effort.

  1. Karl Ortmertl
    commented on: September 2, 2012 at 3:49 a.m.
    I know the MLS wouldn't go for an ethnic team in the league. It was just an interesting thought (to me). But if it's not an ethnic team, what's the point of a Chivas USA? Whatever it was (is) never got any traction. Plus, you don't need two clubs in LA. I still say as a one-off, if you got it together, it would be interesting to have a Mexican club in San Diego. But, apparently I'm the only one.

  1. Dan Twombly
    commented on: September 5, 2012 at 12:31 p.m.
    Karl, why would you move a pseudo Mexican team to San Diego (which has a smaller Mexican population than LA incidentally) when San Diego already has a true Mexican team right across the border in Club Tijuana?

  1. mar sea
    commented on: January 13, 2013 at 6:29 p.m.
    To have the team move to San Diego would be a horrible idea. Here in San Diego we have the Xolos right next door.

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