It is said that a team is only as strong as its weakest member. Of the 19 teams that make up Major League Soccer, the weakness of Chivas USA sticks out like a sore thumb.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber has repeatedly made his intentions clear that he wants the league to be one of the best in the world by the early 2020’s. Since taking over the reins in 1999, Garber has pushed the construction of soccer-specific stadia across the continent and has overseen the doubling in the number of teams in MLS. He has helped change the rules to allow big-name stars play in North America while bringing the league closer than ever to profitability. But over the past two years, Garber’s reputation-defining act has become his ignorance of the problems that Chivas USA are facing.
Chivas USA have never been a model for excellence by any means. Ever since Jorge Vergara assumed outright ownership of the club in August 2012 they have become a model for futility. The club ranks near or at the bottom in nearly every measurement imaginable, from goals conceded to financial value to the fantasy IQ of its fans. Through it all, Garber has dodged more criticism and questions about the franchise’s future than Vince Vaughn dodged Patches O’Houlihan’s wrenches in Dodgeball.
From a third-party view it is clear that the franchise is facing great difficulty. With every passing day, every match played, and every bad PR story that emerges, the argument for either getting rid of the team or relocating it has become more compelling.
So what exactly has driven Chivas into the ground? A big three that would give the Miami Heat a run for their money.
1. A Weak Fanbase
Club Deportivo (C.D.) Chivas USA are a subsidiary of the Manchester United of Mexican football, C.D. Guadalajara. Chivas USA began playing in MLS in 2005 as both an extension of the Guadalajara brand and a way to attract Latino soccer fans in Los Angeles.
Entering 2014, the club has done neither. The Latino market in Los Angeles has held true to the original Chivas rather than embrace their local affiliate. Chivas’ average attendance for league matches has not been above the league average since 2009, and from 2012 to 2013 their average attendance declined a whopping 36 percent.
With so few fans going out to games, Chivas have been hard pressed to find alternative revenue streams. This search was made even harder by the fact that the club did not have a local television contract for the 2013 season until August. It comes as no surprise that in Forbes’ release of the value of each MLS team in November, Chivas finish joint-last in terms of revenue and second-last in terms of operating income.
2. A Poor On-Field Product
Chivas have finished last in MLS’ Western Conference three out of the last four seasons. The only blip on the radar was in 2011, when the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps forced Chivas to settle for second-last. This past season, Chivas had a goal differential of -37, with their 67 goals conceded the highest total in the league since they conceded the same number in their expansion season.
Over the last few seasons, Chivas have traded away some of their best players, often for very little in return. In January 2013 they sent 2011 All-Star Nick Labrocca to Colorado, while highly-rated forward Juan Agudelo was traded to New England a few games into the season. Erick Torres, Chivas’ best player aside from goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, is only on loan from, you guessed it, Guadalajara.
Kennedy is the only mainstay on the current roster. Unless Chivas can field ten good players in front of him in 2014, their playoff drought will continue. Having not made the postseason since 2009, their drought is now second-longest in the league behind Toronto FC.
3. Abysmal Team Management
Vergara, without question, deserves to be the sole recipient of the blame for the decline of Chivas USA. His reign as Chivas owner has been so bad that it makes much-maligned Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan look as successful as Jerry Buss.
Chivas had the lowest payroll in MLS in 2013 and has been near the bottom in recent seasons. As previously explained, the roster has been an excellent reflection of this penny-pinching.
Vergara has also magnified the belief that Chivas USA is a form of purgatory for members of C.D. Guadalajara. Chivas’ first head coach in 2013, José Luis Sánchez Solá, stated he did not see himself at Chivas any longer than two years, presumably wanting to man the sidelines at Guadalajara in the future.
Solá was fired in May, and his replacement, José Luis Real, will not be around in 2014. At season’s end, Vergara appointed him as manager of Guadalajara.
Chivas’ worst off-field storyline in 2013 was the lawsuit filed by two of their former youth coaches. The lawsuit claimed the pair, along with many other staff and players, were being removed from the organization due to their non-Latino heritage. There is an argument to be said for national pride, but a much bigger one to be said for systematic discrimination.
With many cities vying for the rights to expansion MLS franchises, it has become clearer than ever that having a franchise is not a given right. Unfortunately for Chivas USA’s fans, however few and far between, their club has lost the privilege of playing in Major League Soccer.
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