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Garber addresses Chivas USA train wreck
by Paul Kennedy, March 4th, 2013 4:18AM

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TAGS:  chivas usa, mls, soccer business

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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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9 comments
  1. Sean Markus
    commented on: March 4, 2013 at 10:11 a.m.
    The problem with Chivas that no one is addressing is the Home Depot Center. The facility is owned and operated by AEG, who also own the Galaxy. So Chivas has to rent the facility from their rival. It's basically giving the Galaxy more money to spend on players. Also, The Home Depot Center, like most AEG facilities, is an expensive fan venue. Parking normally cost $20, a meal there is any where from $10-$20, and the beers start at $11 each. Include the price of a ticket and that is an expensive night out, especially for the mostly Mexican fan base around LA. Chivas need to find another venue that is more affordable and more accessible to the majority of ts fan base.

  1. David Sirias
    commented on: March 4, 2013 at 11:49 a.m.
    There probably is a "detriment to the league " clause in chives' agreement with MLS. Little doubt that MLS will force a sale or force a relocation ( or even terminate the franchise and refund the money) If it looks like chivas is not willing to re-brand and spend serious coin on their own place, either the sports arena site, or somewhere else in greater LA. Methinks Garber is not looking at the attendance. He understands that. He and his bosses cares about what management is doing behind the scenes . Right now CUSA is harming the entire brand .

  1. Jeff Gingold
    commented on: March 4, 2013 at 12:38 p.m.
    Seattle is more likely to support two professional soccer clubs than LA. Soccer in the Pacific Northwest is like New York was for baseball in the 50s.

  1. Jim Robertson
    commented on: March 4, 2013 at 1:49 p.m.
    It's worth pointing out that without Los Angeles opening day attendance was down a much smaller 2.8% Chivas and the Galaxy both have their work cut out for them with attendance in Southern California down 1/3 from 2012. and San Jose seriously needs a bigger stadium...

  1. bgix
    commented on: March 4, 2013 at 2:50 p.m.
    @Jeff -- Seattle would not support 2 top tier men's teams. The Sounders are too popular for many if any fans to jump ship in favor of a second club. However, I have confidence that Seattle will support it's newest "2nd professional Club" -- Reign FC... The new Women's club.

  1. Damon Selman
    commented on: March 4, 2013 at 5:49 p.m.
    If this experiment will EVER work, it will take time. Personally, I think it is a dumb idea to do an ethnic club in MLS, unless it was it originally an NASL club or start in the USL ala the Sounders, Timbers, or Whitecaps. You may say, what Chivas Guadalajara, Athletic Bilbao, etc. They been around for decades. If you want get more Mexican-Americans on your club, great. The entire Moneyball/ Tampa Bay Rays is based on getting undervalued (by others) commodities like US born Latinos and players not coming from the US's idiotic pay-to-play club system. However, don't be shocked if the strategy backfires and non-Latinos might not go for your product. Don't ignore a great Latino player to get a mediocre Mexican-American player. If you market yourself as a Latino club, there will be non-Latinos (right or wrong) turned off by your product.

  1. Allan Lindh
    commented on: March 4, 2013 at 6:59 p.m.
    This problem doesn't really have good solution, but a border town in Mexico might make more sense. Or just buy them out and move to Miami, where they could be stocked with Cuban defectors.

  1. Ken Jamieson
    commented on: March 4, 2013 at 9:47 p.m.
    Mr. Garber, instead of putting a second team in NY (and risk affecting the Red Bulls fan base), solve the LA situation by moving the Chivas franchise elsewhere. If it is essential to keep the Chivas brand, then relocate them to a city with a significant Hispanic population like San Diego, Phoenix or San Antonio. Otherwise, scap the Chivas project and rebrand completely in another city like Detroit or St. Louis, or even Orlando. For the good of the league and soccer in general, get Chivas USA out of LA.

  1. Chris Sapien
    commented on: March 5, 2013 at 4:20 p.m.
    Let them be bought by and moved to San Diego by a local there, and change the name to the Surf. :)


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