By Paul Kennedy
Major League Soccer has perhaps its most serious club crisis since it had to fold two teams in 2001, but Commissioner Don Garber isn't yet ready to press the panic button.
That's what lots of folks were doing after getting a glimpse of Saturday's crowd at the Home Depot Center for new-look (old-look?) Chivas USA's opener against the Columbus Crew.
The announced crowd of 7,121 was the smallest crowd for a home opener in MLS history. (The previous low: 7,143 for Chicago's opener against New England in 2003. Only 5,000 seats were available at Cardinal Stadium for the Fire's first game in Naperville, so many of the 7,143 fans had to stand.)
But most observers put the HDC crowd at no more than 4,000.
Speaking Saturday night to reporters in Seattle, the second of a four-leg West Coast trip on the opening weekend of the season, Garber said MLS believed in a second team in Los Angeles though he acknowledged the concept of a Mexican team "hasn’t turned out quite the way that we had hoped."
Speaking to reporters Sunday at the LA Galaxy-Chicago match, Garber backed Chivas USA owners Jorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes, saying they were committed to MLS and knew what needed to be done.
Eight years after its launch, Vergara and Fuentes took full control of the team in the offseason and promised the return of the "prodigal son."
Chivas USA has lots going against it, having drifted all these years.
The Chivas brand is not as popular as it used to be -- as evidenced by lower U.S. TV ratings for the Mexican SuperClasico. The problems are in part Vergara's doing as his micromanagement of Chivas de Guadalajara has made it one of the chronic underperformers in Mexican soccer.
The first launch of Chivas USA at least featured a few big-name players like Ramon Ramirez and Francisco Palencia.
The team Chivas USA put out against Columbus featured six starters of Mexican origin, plus two Americans and one Frenchman, Peruvian and Salvadoran.
Chivas USA's primary recruiting strategy this winter was to bring up players from the bottom of the food chain at Chivas de Guadalajara. Giovanni Casillas, who played on Mexico's 2011 U-17 World Cup championship team, and Mexican-American teenager Julio Morales showed promise Saturday against the Crew.
But the final score of 3-0 signaled that the latest incarnation Chivas USA is headed for a train wreck and the Rebano Angelino is in danger of matching its 4-22-6 record in its disastrous 2005 expansion year.
That would be a sure way for no one to watch the Chivas USA not matter what kind of money the Vergaras think of throwing at it.
MLS ATTENDANCE WATCH. MLS's nine opening day crowds were down 9.5 percent from the opening-day crowds at the same venues in 2012.
Seattle and Portland topped last year's home-opening crowds, and Vancouver and San Jose were also sellouts.
The most disappointing crowd was 20,148 for the defending champion LA Galaxy's game against Chicago before which its players were presented their championship medals. The game was also the first since the departure of David Beckham. The Galaxy also played without Landon Donovan, who won't join the team until the end of the month.
MLS Opening Day Crowds
ATT. TEAM (2012 OPENER)
38,998 Seattle (38,709)
21,000 Vancouver (21,000)
20,919 Houston (22,039)
20,674 Portland (20,438)
20,148 LA Galaxy (27,000)
18,160 Philadelphia (19,074)
18,075 FC Dallas (20,906)
10,525 San Jose (10,525)
7,121 Chivas USA (14,464)
2013 Average: 19,513.
2012 Average: 21,573.
MLS EXPANSION WATCH. Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl reported on Fox Soccer's Goals on Sunday that Garber is eyeing Miami as an expansion target. The key: convincing Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross (no relation to the late Steve Ross, who was chairman of the New York Cosmos' parent company, Warner Communications, during their heyday) to include MLS soccer as part of proposed improvements of Sun Life Stadium.
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