May 27, 2007

Chivas USA: The melting pot

Americans, Mexicans, a Romanian, a Cuban, a Jamaican, a Frenchman, a Brazilian, a Colombian, an Englishman makes for quite a roster. Add in the coaching/technical staff that includes a Yugoslavian, a few Mexicans, a Brazilian, an Egyptian, a Dutchman, and some Americans and you have a great representation of what American soccer should be. Shouldn't this be America's Team?

Sadly no, it's barely even Los Angeles' team at this point. The American Goats drew just a little over 8K last night for their match with FC Dallas. There was no competition from the mother ship in Guadalajara, they're out of the Mexican playoffs. The Galaxy were on the road in Colorado, I doubt there's much overlap in the fan base. I don't know what the excuse is at this point.

When Chivas USA began in 2005, there was much talk about making them in the mirror image of the parent club in Guadalajara. Club Deportivo Guadalajara, a.k.a. Chivas, is known for two things. They have won the most championships in Mexican history with titles, and they have done this by only fielding Mexican-born players. Chivas USA wasn't able to do this exactly, but made it very clear that they were going to cater to Hispanic players and fans. With guys like Isaac Romo, Ryan Suarez, and Thiago Martins featuring in 2005, the fans didn't care what their heritage was. They just knew that the team was awful.

The ownership knew this as well, and brought in Bob Bradley to right the ship in '06. He took the team to the playoffs, and brought in MLS veterans like Jesse Marsch, Tim Regan, and Ante Razov to help him. They easily could've made the Western Conference final if not for some interesting officiating in Houston. Bradley took the US national team coaching job in the offseason, leaving his rebuilding task in the hands of his assistant, Preki.

The team has had some issues this season, but have been consistently fun to watch. The trade of a DP slot for Amado Guevara failed miserably, but the team is still trying to get something out of it by dealing Guevara. Maykel Galindo has been a joy to watch, he's been one of the best players in the league in the early going. The team is committed to an attacking style, if not necessarily a Mexican one.

The marketing side of things has been pretty tough due to all the changes. First, you have to compete with the Galaxy. They've been in the market since 1996, and have the casual soccer fans locked down, especially now after signing David Beckham. Chivas USA seemed to ignore the Anglo market completely in the early going, expecting the fans of Guadalajara to come out to support the new initiative. However, once fans saw the product on the field, they stopped coming in large numbers.

Did switching the roster focus from a completely Hispanic one cause problems in 2006? It's hard to tell, but I would hope not because the quality of the team increased a great deal. Chivas tried to reach out to the Hispanic community this preseason with the SueƱo MLS contest on Republica Deportiva. However, now that the team represents a true mix of nationalities, the fan base doesn't for the most part. This approach needs to change.

There are opportunities. The Galaxy have unsurprisingly jacked up ticket prices with the arrival of Beckham. I can't blame them, people want to pay that price to see the Yellow and Gold (or black, navy, gold, yellow, sky blue, or whatever they rebrand themselves with) and #7 (or #23, or whatever he ends up with). If the Galaxy wants to become the SuperClub with the high-dollar fans, let them. Chivas should make themselves into the team of the people. Chivas USA can become the Boca Juniors to the Galaxy's River Plate. Keep tickets reasonable, reach out to groups of youth and adult soccer players, show them the style and passion on the field, and you will make fans of them.

I'd like to think that American soccer has matured enough for American-born fans to support a team with a Spanish-language name. There's also the large number of immigrants in LA that can relate to a team with players from all over the globe.



Laurie said...

I tuned into the Chivas-Dallas game immediately after the ugly-boring LA-Colorado game. Chivas were really a pleasure to watch. (And if you tell anybody I said that, I'll deny it to the death!!) And this is especially true given how much I hate Dallas. They play ugly football. Whatever.

And the Chivas' passing game was gorgeous, especially in the second half. (As a fan of the France NT and the French style of play, beautiful passing is the way to my heart.)

I know as a Galaxy fan I'm supposed to hate Chivas, but they won me over when they picked up my French guy, Laurent Merlin and they haven't managed to lose me yet. (Shh! Don't tell!!)

ULTRAS said...

I watched the game, too. I couldn't believe how empty it was at the HDC, and I've been a fan of MLS for long time now, so I've seen some empty seats.

But that sort of vacuous atmosphere is typically reserved for the monstrosities of the Meadowlands and Arrowhead!