Less than two months after taking over as the caretaker coach at Chivas USA, Wilmer Cabrera enters the new Major League Soccer season opener battling something no coach has faced there in years.
With moody and mercurial owner Jorge Vergara gone after being bought out by the league last month, the team and its few remaining fans have some reason to hope after four seasons in which Chivas lost more than twice as many games as it won.
And while Cabrera doesn't want to dampen that enthusiasm, he is pleading for a little patience and perspective.
"We are coaches. We are not magicians," he warns. "We cannot have that formula in our pocket that says, 'Just do this and you'll be successful.' No. We have to work on that."
That work begins in earnest Sunday when Chivas USA plays host to the Chicago Fire in a noon matinee at the StubHub Center. And making Cabrera's task more challenging is the fact he will be trying to build stability on an unstable foundation.
Vergara went through six coaches and tried nearly as many playing styles in his last five years with the team. So Cabrera and interim team President Nelson Rodriguez, both well-respected former MLS executives, have been charged with restoring some predictability as well as some hope in the franchise while the league looks for more permanent ownership.
"You can't move forward if you're on a treadmill," Rodriguez says.
"The only part of the past I'm interested in is not repeating any mistakes. We want to be a learning organization. The seeds that we plant today, the fruit may not be borne this season. It's about doing things the right way. That's easy to say but it's hard to have the discipline to do."
While Cabrera is preaching caution, though, Rodriguez has said openly that his goals include not just a playoff appearance but Chivas' first-ever postseason series win as well.
"There is a real sense that there is something special within our grasp," he says. "There's a real chance for us to be a surprise story."
Chivas did not lose in eight preseason games and in forward Erick Torres — who scored seven times in 15 games after arriving last July on loan from the franchise's former sister club in Guadalajara — the team has a legitimate scoring threat.
But Torres may not be around long. In a final act of pique Vergara, who still owns Chivas of Guadalajara, says he'll bring Torres back to Mexico when his loan expires in June. That will leave Chivas USA's offense in the hands of former Seattle Sounders midfielder Mauro Rosales and four aging players new to MLS — forwards Adolfo Bautista (Mexico) and Luke Moore (England) and midfielder Agustin Pelletieri (Argentina) and Daniel Fragoso (Spain).
"On paper they're very good players. What they have done for their teams, that's why we brought them here," Cabrera says. "And now they have to do it for Chivas."
But, the coach adds, "there's a process. We have guys that they don't know the league yet. They don't know the style of play and the speed of the game in MLS. That takes time."
Time, however, is something Chivas USA may finally have on its side.
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