There's a lot that one can say about Chivas USA. Some entertaining, some bizarre, some good, some bad. Really, of all the clubs in MLS, Chivas USA is, by far, the most mesmerizing this season. Not only for their off-the-field antics, but also for their on field success. While it's not been a perfect season so far for the team, with how little they spend on players and how much front office turmoil there's been this season, it's hard not to be impressed.
But I actually know very little about the club these days. So to help us figure them out, I spoke with Alicia Ratterree of SB Nation's Chivas USA blog The Goat Parade.
First things first, what's going on with Chivas USA? I think most people are generally very curious as to exactly what's happening with the club at large.
Great question! To be frank, it is hard to tell what is happening week to week even among those of us who follow the team closely. I will, however, give a basic overview of what has been happening since last season. First, co-owner Jorge Vergara bought out the other owners and took over full control of the club. He held one very flamboyant press conference in November, when he explained that he was bringing Chivas USA back in line with his other club, Chivas de Guadalajara. Since then, we've not heard a word from him publicly about his MLS team.
In the offseason, the team brought in Mexican coach Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, aka Chelís, transformed most of the roster, and cleaned out nearly everybody in the front office and coaching staff. The club is as close to Chivas de Guadalajara as it has been since 2005, with several management positions straddling both clubs, a stated purpose to use Chivas USA as a farm team in certain cases for player development in Guadalajara, and an emphasis on building the team around Latino players. While the offseason changes were dubbed a "Gringo fire sale" by many around the league, I would like to point out that the majority of the roster is U.S. born and/or raised, regardless of race or ethnicity, and among the Latino players, five different nationalities are represented.
Frankly, despite taking over the club full-time just last fall, Vergara seems uninterested overall, and rumors have been swirling that he may be looking to sell not just Chivas USA, but his entire sporting empire. I'm sure this will add fuel to the commenting fire, but while the on-field results have been promising so far this season, the team is reportedly spending no money on marketing and the promise of a soccer-specific stadium of the Goats' own seems like an impossible dream at this point. I'll say this: LA can sustain two clubs, including CUSA, but it is hard to entice new fans when the owner is disinterested and doesn't seem at all inclined in investing in the club. Trust me, fans are upset and frustrated, and hate being stuck between the hate of the rest of the league and the apathy of the ownership.
Chivas has been able to go far so far this season with very little ($800,000 under the cap). What are they doing right in this regard? How are they able to underspend, but still be a solid squad? Who are their biggest value players?
This has been a happy accident, as far as I'm concerned. The team is woefully short on MLS experience, and multiple key players have gone down with injury or suspension as the season has progressed. Still, I think the key to any real success Chivas have had so far has to be Chelís. He has had to rotate his squad out of necessity, but he's played nearly every single player on the roster this season, which is very unusual in MLS. In general, the talent level of the roster isn't very good, but with Chelís working hard to train and motivate the players, and with the players genuinely buying into his system, it has been fairly successful so far this season.
That said, the team has been slipping of late, and I think basically every fan would like to see more meaningful investment in the squad. Chivas have had DPs, they have a cheap one now in Oswaldo Minda, but they've never made the big splash in the DP era of MLS. Even if that isn't going to happen, just getting a few solid players certainly wouldn't be a bad idea. But I'm of the opinion that the team is not going to change substantially during the year, so this group will have to bounce back from a rough six weeks and figure out how to overachieve.
El Chelis has been entertaining, to say the least, but also seems to know how to win games. What's his secret? How does he get a club that's undergoing so many radical changes to play as well as they have?
I think the secret is that he can legitimately coach. He was an ideal coach for taking over Chivas USA in some respects, since he's made his career in Mexico working with struggling teams and getting them to outperform. He has loads of charisma, making it easy for him to be the face of the franchise at the moment, but he's a smart guy, and I continue to be impressed by him.
His formations can be unorthodox at times, but he generally uses a 3-5-2. When the team is at its best, they press all over the field and counterattack quickly. Possession is not important, so long as the total team defense is stout. In addition, Chelís has no fear of making early subs, or of yanking out defenders if he thinks they are ineffective. His subs make an impact more than I recall in recent seasons, and again, the team seems to be on the same page with him. I can't speak highly enough about Chelís, and I think the bulk of the credit this season goes to him.
Aside from Dan Kennedy, who are Chivas' impact makers on the field? Who should Timbers fans watch out for?
I think Timbers fans will be pleased to hear that Kennedy is out this week, serving a red card suspension, and Patrick McLain will be making his first career start at goalkeeper. I hope McLain is up to the task, but I know I'd feel better if it was DK back there.
Otherwise, if Oswaldo Minda makes his return to the lineup, I would expect that to be a big boost in the center of the midfield, but I'm not sure that will happen this week. Eric Avila has been strong on the right flank this season, and Jorge Villafaña has emerged and put in a few really strong performances on the left flank. The forwards have struggled this season, and with Juan Agudelo shipped out to New England, the burden is now fully on Miller Bolanos, Tristan Bowen, Julio Morales and Jose Correa to actually start scoring some goals.
Predicted starting lineup?
Big thanks to Alicia for taking time out of her day to answer my questions. You can read more about Chivas USA and their fascinating ordeal at The Goat Parade.