Chivas USA

Can the Southern California extension of a Mexican powerhouse find its identity and perhaps some success?

Trophies: None yet

Fan personality: They haven’t filled the Home Depot Center the way the Chivas organization might have thought when they kicked off this experiment in 2005. But they have a couple of solid supporters groups — some who cheer for all things Chivas, some simply drawn to a team trying to build a grass-roots movement in Los Angeles.


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Stadium situation: The Home Depot Center is a terrific soccer facility aside from the cramped pressbox. It’s not exactly in downtown LA or easily accessible by mass transit, but what is? Southern California’s sprawl is an issue no soccer stadium can solve. The Goats aren’t exactly the primary tenant, of course.

History

The club’s 2005 debut was nearly comical. Their leading scorer, Hector Cuadros, had four goals. Coach Thomas Rongen lasted 10 games. His replacement, surly Dutchman Hans Westerhof, is best remembered for a sideline blowup with defender Ryan Suarez and for shunning sideline reporter/U.S. women’s national team defender Heather Mitts when they were supposed to do their in-game interview.

Enter an unlikely savior: Bob Bradley. The veteran MLS coach had resurgent forward Ante Razov and a couple of terrific young American players in goalkeeper Brad Guzan, midfielder Sacha Kljestan and defender Jonathan Bornstein. Bradley coached the team to the playoffs and respectability. When he left for the U.S. national team, Preki took over and led the team to a first-place finish in the West in 2007.

But as those players departed, the team slid back toward the bottom of the West. The Goats have no trophies and not even a serious playoff run to recall.

In 2011, Robin Fraser, formerly a cerebral defender with the U.S. national team and several MLS clubs, got the task of changing that.  Juan Pablo Angel, Heath Pearce and Ecuadorian midfielder Oswalda Minda were among the cornerstones of a team whose official roster listed no Mexican-born players. (Jorge Villafaña, formerly Jorge Flores, is Mexican-American — he’s nicknamed “Sueño” after the reality-TV contest he won to earn his tryout.)

After a rough season in 2012, the club went full circle. President Jorge Vergara put the “Chivas” back in “Chivas USA.” The new coach as of 2013 was Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, better known as Chelis. And they’re loading up on Mexican players again, though they’re keeping workhorse goalkeeper Dan Kennedy.

Aside from being occasionally mostly Mexican, the Goats are more or less defined as the opposite of whatever the ground-sharing (-owning) Los Angeles Galaxy might be. The Galaxy is glitzy; Chivas USA is not. But on the field, the club has little to show for its time in MLS other than a bit of youth development success.

2013 previews: MLSSoccer.com, ESPN, Soccer America, SB Nation

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