Time to pull plug on the Chivas USA Experiment?

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.

12 comments about "Time to pull plug on the Chivas USA Experiment?".
  1. Robert Lee, August 31, 2012 at 2:19 a.m.

    Why not move to San Diego?

  2. Tom Jedrzejewicz, 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.

  3. Marc Silverstein, August 31, 2012 at 10:41 a.m.

    Robert, there is no suitable stadium in San Diego.

  4. Paul Lorinczi, 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?

  5. Karl Ortmertl, 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.

  6. Glenn Maddock, 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!

  7. Ray Shines, 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.

  8. Karl Ortmertl, 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.

  9. Karl Ortmertl, 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.

  10. Dan Twombly, 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?

  11. mar sea, 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.

  12. Rik Thistle, February 26, 2015 at 2:57 p.m.

    San Diego North County would be perfect for an MLS team. Oceanside or Escondido would pull from both San Diego and Orange County. Several large pieces of land available. Also San Diego and OC are hotbeds of youth soccer.

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