[MLS SPOTLIGHT]About to begin its 10th season, the Chivas USA experiment is over. MLS has bought out ownersJorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes for what Commissioner Don Garber described as "market value." The league will operate the club until new owners are found in the Los Angeles market.
Chivas USA is in the final year of its lease at StubHub Center, the home of the LA Galaxy, but Garber said MLS would seek to extend the lease, if necessary, until a new stadium could be found for the team. He termed finding a new owner by the end of the year "ambitious," but said that is the league's goal. No MLS expansion team has been awarded in less than a year from the year of its launch, so getting a re-branded LA MLS team off the ground in 2015 would be a huge challenge.
"This is a heavy lift," he admitted. It is not unprecedented, though. Leagues have operated teams in MLB (Washington and Los Angeles), NBA (New Orleans) and NHL (Phoenix).
Garber said the fact Chivas USA had no long-term stadium solution was the tipping point for the club. He disputed the notion that Jorge Vergara was not receptive of the league's support or ideas. He said it came down to a matter of time, which Garber said Vergara and his wife, Angelica Fuentes, didn't have.
"They needed to double- or triple-down on Chivas USA," Garber said in a media call on Thursday afternoon. "They have two young children. They didn't have the time."
Purchasing operating rights to Chivas USA from the Vergaras buys MLS the time to find a new ownership group of its liking and gives it the control to keep the situation at Chivas USA from further deteriorating. Attendance plummeted to 8,366 a game in 2013 -- and that was generous in terms of the number of fans actually in attendance.
After Vergara purchased full control of the team in late 2012, he doubled down on the Chivas USA image on the field, importing a host of Mexican nationals, signing many Mexican-Americans and discarding numerous non-Mexicans. That experiment lasted all of one season, as the 2014 version of Chivas USA -- unbeaten it must be said in preseason -- has only two Mexican nationals in key roles: Erick Torres and Adolfo Bautista.
Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake came in as expansion teams in 2005. Vergara's entrance into the league came at a critical time as MLS had contracted to 10 teams after the 2001 season. Garber said Vergara was "a believer" in MLS from the beginning and a key ally in Mexico and supporter of the league's marketing initiatives.
For Garber, Chivas USA's demise as a brand is quite personal as the club was his first baby, so to speak, along with Real Salt Lake, the first expansion clubs he welcomed after taking over as commissioner in 1999.
While the Chivas brand has diminished with changing demographics in the LA market and its own failures in Mexico, Garber said if MLS had to do it over, it would launch Chivas USA again. As Chivas USA's attendance plummeted last season, he preached patience and never wavered in his support of the Vergaras.