The Chivas USA Project

by James Kilpatrick

Chelis

A new look team, a new manager and a quest to retrieve a lost identity. Chivas USA have been a team renowned for being stuck at the depths of the MLS western conference for the past three years.

Chivas USA’s inability to break into the play-offs in those few years justified cries for reform from their fans and reforms is what they have got. A team which, since its inception in 2004, has always faced an identity crisis. The Rojiblancos aim to become a team fitting of the Mexican/Mexican-American/Latino demographic which they set out to try and do those nine years ago, with little success.

A shake up of the club’s hierarchy during the 2012 post season, a large number of  player transactions and a charismatic, loquacious new manager have all been implemented during the preseason, but just how successful will this brave new project be for the club which has already suffered a number of false dawns in their short history? Heres how they plan to do it.

Vergara_PC2The background

Chivas USA are effectively the little brother to C.D. Guadalajara, the only club in Mexico to field only Mexican Players. They are widely known for producing homegrown talent such as Carlos Vela, Omar Bravo and Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez. The goal since the beginning was for Chivas USA to follow their bigger brother’s footsteps by producing Mexican-American/ Latino players whilst also acting as the primary destination for C.D. Guadalajara to send their players on loan and develop them further.

However, Chivas USA never seemed to stay on track with this formula, with their notable players being fully American nationals rather than Mexicans or Mexican-Americans, including the current Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Los Rojiblancos have yet to have progressed further than the MLS playoffs quarter-finals since they kicked off their first season in 2005 and have tended to have relied on players and managers who do not fit their demographic. Chivas USA’s recent history has been appalling, failing to qualify for the playoffs in the last three seasons and recorded the lowest number of goals last season (the number of goals they scored as a team was the same as San Jose Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski on his own). The club was in turmoil with calls for the club to be either folded or relocated outside Los Angeles due to the downfall in attendances. Chivas USA was in a rapid decline.

In late 2012, there seems to be hope. 50% shareholder and C.D. Guadalajara Owner Jorge Vergara and his wife, Angelica Fuentes, became sole owners of the MLS outfit, buying out previous owners Antonio and Lorenzo Cue. Vergara clearly laid out his plans in his first press conference, looking to grow their fanbase in Los Angeles/Southern California through playing attractive attacking, fluid football which won over so many fans in Guadalajara. Dennis te Kloese has also been instated as Sporting Director of  Chivas USA and Chairman Chivas Guadalajara and has knowledge of both leagues in great depth. The structure sounds encouraging, but who will lead the charge pitch-side?

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The manager

His name is José Luis Sanchéz Solá, or commonly referred to as ‘Chelís’. A fiery, passionate, charismatic character, Chelís has plied his trade in Mexico throughout his whole managerial career before making the move stateside in 2013.  He was predominantly manager of Puebla where he was sacked twice only to be reinstated at the request of the players. He is considered a cult hero in Mexico, saving Puebla from relegation and qualifying for the finals. Chelís is a real character as well, he has been seen smoking on the sidelines and jumps up and down in a characteristically animated fashion. At Chivas USA, he is sure to be quoted countless times.

Although he is considered to be an oddball, Chelís is a man who is excellent at bringing the most out of his players, already in preseason, new acquisition Eric Avila has been quoted as saying the Chelís’ methods of motivation have sent players ‘over the top’. Chelís has also already built a good rapport with Chivas USA’s fanbase, signing autographs and taking pictures with fans wherever he goes. His training methods are intense and rigorous, but looks to be a man who strives to get the maximum effort out of his players.  He sounds like just the man Chivas USA need with what is a club lacking in real star quality and tight financially.

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The present

Chelís is entering the MLS 2013 season with what seems to be a relatively weak squad. Los Rojiblancos has already cleared out a number of well established players, Juan Pablo Angel, Danny Califf, Nick Labrocca and Shalrie Joseph being a notable few. There seems to be little return on these players as well and looks like moves to lower the wage bill rather than necessarily for footballing reasons (although none of them really fit Chivas USA’s target demographic).

A heavy reliance on young talent, yet to consistently prove themselves on the big stage such as Juan Agudelo and Miller Bolaños looks to be the order of the day. Although there are those who feel that these two in particular could thrive in the new system Chelís has implemented. A 3-5-2 which focuses  on ball retention and fluid movement. Furthermore, Chivas USA have only recently acquired three players on loan from Chivas Guadalajara. 24 year old defensive midfielder Edgar Mejía who has made 114 appearances for Chivas USA’s bigger brother. 19 year old attacking midfielder Giovani Casillas has made seven appearances and center back Mario de Luna, who has made 72 appearances. Three good looking players who could make a significant impact in Chivas USA’s campaign.

Remarkably, these are the only three full Mexicans who are in the squad, with there still being members of the oldguard such as 2011/2012 player of the season and captain ‘keeper Dan Kennedy and center back Bobby Burling. However, a number of them are of latino descent. There seems to be a suitable blend of nationalities which is expected of a team who have just got going down a new direction. Although the squad on the whole is young of age, there is certainly a lot of promising talent who will be motivated to prove themselves.

The project is bold, the aim is to reinvigorate passion and support for Chivas USA and although this  season it seems unlikely that Los Rojiblancos will be winning an MLS Cup, at least it seems as if the building blocks are being put into place to restore Chivas USA’s lost identity.

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