The Chivas USA delusion

Starting with a confession: I was wrong about Chivas USA. I thought the brand name would draw fans. I thought they’d come up with enough Mexican or Mexican-ish players to compete with a different style.

That didn’t go so well. After an awful first year, they became competitive under the non-Mexican coach Bob Bradley and stayed competitive under Preki, who grew up about as far away from Mexico in the geographical and cultural sense as possible.

Their best players were mostly U.S. college alumni: Ante Razov, Brad Guzan, Sacha Kljestan, Jonathan Bornstein and Jesse Marsch. They had a couple of solid Mexican players in Francisco Palencia (briefly), Claudio Suarez and Ramon Ramirez, but everywhere else, they were a basic MLS team.

In the past three years, they’ve ceased to be competitive. The personnel decisions haven’t been great. The good news: Their Academy program is solid, getting good marks in most categories in U.S. Soccer’s tough evaluations.

So now owner Jorge Vergara is going back to the club’s shallow roots, pledging to be more Mexican and less like a typically physical MLS team.

They may eventually get out of their ground-sharing situation at the Home Depot Center, which would be a step in the right direction. But it may not be far enough to get out of the shadow of the Galaxy.

Turning away from the “physical” style in MLS would be attractive. But it’s not as if Chivas USA was a nice, friendly team when it was more Mexican. They were third in the league in fouls in their debut season. (They dropped off over the next couple of years, then led the league in fouls under Preki in 2009.)

They didn’t work — on the field or at the box office — as a Chivas de Guadalajara “B” team of sorts. They were a bit better as a more conventional MLS team with a couple of prominent Mexican players. Put that team in an area in which fans can’t or don’t get to many Galaxy games, and you have a strong MLS presence.

Has Vergara learned enough from his first attempt with the team to do it a little differently this time? We’ll see. But it’ll depend on whether he goes back to what works, not what didn’t.

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