When will MLS save Chivas USA from itself?
Can things get any weirder at Chivas USA?
On Wednesday morning the team was sued by two former coaches who charged the club with racial discrimination, claiming they were fired 2½ months ago because they weren’t Latino and didn’t speak Spanish. Then about a dozen hours later the team dismissed its carefully hand-picked -- and very popular -- manager, José Luis Sánchez Solá, who is Mexican.
Add to that the fact that the team, which is 3-7-2, hasn’t made the playoffs or had a winning record since 2009, has no local broadcasting deal, does not have its own stadium and has been the league’s worst draw the last two seasons -- home attendance of 8,045 is off more than 38% from last season’s dismal showing -- and it becomes baffling why Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber doesn’t step in and put the franchise and its few fans out of their misery.
Wednesday got off to a bad start for Chivas when Daniel Calichman and Theothoros Chronopoulos, both former members of the U.S. national soccer team, filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against the team, for which they coached players ages 7 to 18.
According to the complaint, shortly after Mexican businessman Jorge Vergara and wife Angelica Fuentes assumed sole ownership of the club last fall, Vergara told his staff that employees who did not speak Spanish would be fired. Soon after that Jose David, the team’s new president and chief business officer, asked Chronopoulos to compile lists of youth players and coaches who were Mexican or Mexican American and of those that weren’t.
Vergara also owns the Mexican league club Chivas de Guadalajara, which served as the inspiration for Chivas USA. Chivas de Guadalajara is the only club in the Mexican league that has never fielded a non-Mexican player and Vergara has long sought a way to recruit and develop Mexican American players from Southern California for that team.
That has led to several changes with his MLS club in the last seven months, including a complete turnover of the roster. In 2012, when Chivas USA finished last in the Western Conference, just one player had Mexican roots. This year no fewer than 14 were either born in Mexico or have Mexican-born parents, making them eligible to player for Chivas de Guadalajara as well as Chivas USA.
And Solá, a former club coach in the Mexican league who goes by his nickname, El Chelis, was the man who was supposed to make the transition work. For a time, it did, with Chivas USA going unbeaten in the preseason, then losing just one of its first five regular-season games. And he did all that with the lowest-paid team in MLS.
That ended Wednesday night. In a strange -- even by Chivas USA’s dysfunctional standards -- press release, the team claimed that El Chelis “had at his disposal a competitive team with the institutional premise of a formal interaction, based in communication in which the club listened to his petitions to incorporate players approved by him. However, he was not able to reflect it with results.”
“While serving as Chivas USA Head Coach,” the release continued “Sánchez Solá not always followed the patterns of respect and conduct implemented by Major League Soccer, as well as by Chivas USA.”
This isn’t the first time Solá has been sacked. He saved Puebla of the Mexican league from relegation yet was fired twice for his efforts, only to have his players demand his return. Even the state government backed the campaign to keep him.
Solá was popular with Chivas USA’s players as well.
“Chelis and his coaching staff did a wonderful job,” forward Tristen Bowen said during the team’s fast start. “We’re excited to play with each other. We’re excited to fight and just be around each other.
“There is just something different about this group. It just seems right. The guys, we’re getting along with each other. There’s a lot of personality within the coaching staff, within the equipment managers. Just the whole club. There’s something changing within the whole organization.”
On that last point, Bowen couldn’t have been more wrong. Over the last 2½ years, Chivas USA has totally remade its front office twice. And Jose Luis Real, the man hired to replace Solá, becomes the ninth manager in the team’s nine-year history -- and the third in six months.
Still, that qualifies as stability compared with Vergara’s track record with his Mexican league club. Since taking over Chivas de Guadalajara in 2002, Vergara has made 16 coaching changes. Garber and the league should step in now before Vergara has a chance to equal that record with his MLS team.
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