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On Paper, Chivas Seems Ready to Go

Times Staff Writer

The gauntlet was a roll of toilet paper. And countless streamers. And stiff rolls of calculator paper.

It was at the news conference Monday to officially announce Chivas USA’s inclusion as an expansion club in Major League Soccer that the air became filled with flying objects, aimed literally and figuratively at the Galaxy.

And the Home Depot Center’s newest tenants have yet to play a game.

The intracity rivalry between the Galaxy, the state-of-the-art soccer stadium’s first occupants, and Mexico’s pseudo-entry into MLS, which will begin play next spring, got a kick-start when nearly 1,000 fans, most decked out in the red and white colors of Chivas de Guadalajara, drowned out the words of Galaxy officials with singsong chants and an ever-beating bass drum while lofting the paper products toward the dais, on which was seated Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn and Carson Mayor Jim Dear. Both wore Chivas jerseys.

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Chivas owner Jorge Vergara, who was presented a Kobe Bryant Laker jersey but put it on backward, could only smile after thanking the Galaxy for sharing its year-old home with his team.

“The peace and tranquillity is over, right?” he said in Spanish to a whistling crowd.

Ever since Vergara’s intentions of owning an MLS club came to light last summer, he has had an eye on the Los Angeles market, with its huge Latino population and the old joke being that with the burgeoning number of Mexican sporting fans in the Southland, Chivas was the second-most popular team in L.A., behind the Dodgers.

But with Vergara, the founder and chief executive of Mexican health supplement giant Grupo Omnilife, looking to move his American base of operations to Chicago, it was believed he would also set up Chivas USA’s soccer shop in the Windy City.

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San Diego had also been mentioned early on as a possible site.

“We’re going to make the Home Depot Center the home of Chivas,” said Antonio Cue, who is investor-operator of Chivas USA, along with Vergara. “We’re going to bring our traditions and field a competitive team.

“We will be champions, I have no doubt about it.”

There are questions, though, about how they will field a team that will in essence be a triple-A caliber club of the Mexican mother ship. Because while Chivas employs only Mexican players in Mexico, MLS rules allow only three senior international players per team.

“We haven’t gotten that far,” said Chivas USA General Manager Whit Haskel, who also said that the team name and colors will be announced this month.

Said Galaxy General Manager Doug Hamilton: “The mechanisms exist for them to build a team in any shape, way or form they want to.”

Meaning players would not count toward the limit if they obtained green cards and Chivas could potentially sign Mexican American players.

Although it may seem a no-brainer for the New York Yankees of Mexican club soccer -- as beloved as Chivas are in Guadalajara, they are just as despised in other parts of the country -- to play here, questions persist as to why the Galaxy would allow them to move into its backyard.

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Hamilton said the town was big enough for both teams.

“We’ve built a relationship with our fans, serviced our fans and have been a resource for our fans,” he said. “We feel as long as we continue to do well, we’ll continue to keep those fans.”


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