Jorge Vergara

MLS structure implicitly allows Chivas USA shenanigans

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Chivas USA fired its president, the club announced late Wednesday night, naming Arturo Gálvez as José David’s successor. David was appointed president in October 2012.

The announcement marks another change in the merry-go-round that has been the “other” club at StubHub Center. Eight coaches in nine seasons, including two this year, and a handful of front-office hirings and firings seemingly every season don’t make for a steady ship.

Despite multiple calls for new ownership, franchise relocation or any combination of changes that basically amount to kicking owner Jorge Vergara out of the league, he remains at the helm of all the chaos. Amid allegations of discrimination that were documented in an incredibly one-sided HBO Sports story — borne of the fact that HBO projects little knowledge about soccer and Chivas did itself no favors by refraining from comment until after its release — Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber has remained defiant of the idea.

Sports Illustrated’s Brian Straus wrote an excellent overview after Gálvez’s appointment last night discussing Vergara’s oversights and carelessness in charge. From his blind adherence to the Chivas brand, which only personifies his failure to transcend the Mexican-American audience gap, to his tactless communication in most situations, Vergara harks back to MLS’s desperation for new ownership and expansion in the mid-2000s.

Now that he’s in, he can’t be kicked out, no matter how far the rest of the league surpasses him and his club. Garber can’t say anything negative about Vergara because the two are intertwined in a multi-pronged partnership with no easy way out.

source: Getty Images
Chivas USA sits in last place in the MLS Western Conference with an average attendance of 8,230 in 2013.

“People who operate teams in [American] pro sports leagues are business partners. We decided to formalize that in a structure, commonly referred to as ‘single entity,’ ” MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott told Straus. “As a partner, you’re subject to all of the league rules and that’s true for everybody, from an operating investor to a particular team.”

As long as Vergara conforms to obligations the league sets out, he will retain his stake.

No league in the world can kick owners out without justification, but even finishing in last place doesn’t offer much incentive for improvement in MLS. Owners in the league share in every team’s revenue, meaning Chivas’ paltry average attendance of well under than 10,000 fans and Seattle Sounders FC’s over-40,000 mark don’t carry as much meaning as they would in other leagues.

Under the single-entity structure, Chivas will continue to be a stumbling block to MLS progress — as will its closest facsimile in the Eastern Conference, Toronto FC. For its drawbacks in the incumbent North American sports climate, a system of promotion and relegation could put floundering clubs such as them in position to improve quickly or die out.

With MLS’s desired expansion in the coming years, this reality becomes more relevant. It’s hard to imagine Vergara would stick around with his pocketbook hemorrhaging and his team playing in an inferior league.

But until his hand is forced, he will stay — as would any other businessman. If the league makes money, in spite of his club’s situation, he makes money.

MLS’s single-entity system is a great deal for Vergara, even though it’s a terrible deal for on-field progress in the United States and Canada.

Never a dull moment with Chivas USA owner Jorge Vergara

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Just when Chivas USA makes a little progress, takes a gentle stride forward in signing a respected leader in former U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra, along comes the club’s wheels off owner to remind everyone of how far this thing is from genuine stability.

Because if the owner, the man at the very tip-top of the organization, cannot be trusted to conduct a short interview without doing something to embarrass the club, well, what chance does Chivas USA really have?

Remember, just a month ago Vergara promised that Chivas USA “will become a protagonist in MLS and a champion like Chivas in Mexico.” Yes, he said that. He predicted championship stuff from a team that has still never won an MLS playoff series.

By the way, his “Chivas in Mexico” is currently 15th among 18 Liga MX teams. So there’s that.

Vergara said all kinds of wacky stuff in that interview.

There is also the unpleasant business of the ongoing lawsuits, much of which is tied into Vergara’s actions. Yes, “lawsuits,” plural. You may have missed it, but there is more than one now.

Well, either Vergara was having a bad day – or perhaps he is learning his lessons, figuring to bail out before he says something else that will get him in trouble. Because, well, this ..

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By the way, I talked to an MLS official during All-Star activities recently in Kansas City about all this. I asked straight out, what are the league’s options with Vergara and Chivas USA, where the situation is a drag on the rest of the league (my words, not his). He told me, “We just keep working with them to make things better. We don’t have any other options.”

Johan Cruyff takes his shots at Chivas, Jorge Vergara

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Things have gone seriously sideways for proud Mexican club Chivas de Guadalajara, and in so many different ways.

On the one hand, a Dutchman griping and lobbing complaints is hardly newsworthy stuff. Ridiculously talented Dutch teams of past years came famously undone amid a bitter symphony of lowlands locker room rancor, and sometimes worse.

But to hear such a giant figure in the game, and one with knowledge of the club’s inner workings, taking shots at his former employer, well this one resonates for several reasons.

Johan Cruyff (pictured), architect of one of Barcelona’s past, fabled runs, cited upper management as the source of all that ills Chivas de Guadalajara, one of the enormously popular brands of Mexico and Liga MX. He is one of the figures who has the bona fides to say such a thing and be heard; he can certainly say out loud that the emperor has no clothes.

The “emperor” in this case is billionaire businessman and film producer Jorge Vergara, who owns Chivas de Guadalajara and Chivas USA – and man who once described Dutch soccer’s legendary figure as “the person who knows most about soccer in all the world.”

So it had to sting when, according to this piece at ESPN FC, Cruyff said, referring to Mexico’s split-season format:

In the last 22 seasons, which are 11 years, I believe they have won only once. You can only say that the people that direct the club aren’t directing it well.”

Vergara and Cruyff severed their relationship rather less than amicably last December. So, yes there is a “disgruntled employee” aspect at work. Then again, considering the lawsuits, dismissals of popular coaches, the losing at Chivas from points north and south, well, it’s hard to argue the point, eh?

And so it begins: Discrimination lawsuit filed against Chivas USA

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Per reporting from Kevin Baxter at the L.A. Times, two former Chivas USA coaches filed a discrimination suite against the club in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday, alleging their March firing resulted from their being “neither Mexican nor Latino.”

Daniel Calichman and Theothoros Chronopoulos, both former coaches in Chivas USA’s youth academy, were let go earlier this year, well after Jorge Vergara and his wife, Angelica Fuentes, became the team’s sole owners. In the interim:

  • employees were told those who did not speak Spanish would be fired, …
  • Chronopoulos was asked to compile lists that distinguished Mexican/Mexican-American players and coaches from one who were not, …
  • while each coach was asked to research the ethnic and national origins of academy players and parents.

Internal, formal claims of discrimination were never pursued, the coaches’ complaint alleges. On March 7, the duo were terminated, two months after they were offered a severance package in exchange for their resignations.

Chivas USA isn’t commenting, and the coaches are seeking punitive damages, but we should have known something like this was coming. Chivas USA’s sudden return to their “Mexican roots” has been as subtle and elegant as a trade that sells Juan Agudelo for $75,000.

As this observation from Baxter intimates, the turn the organization’s taken since Vergara’s buyout makes Chivas USA’s preferences clear:

In 2012, just one Chivas USA 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.

You didn’t have to go too deep into a comment thread this winter to read people asking about this scenario. Why, in this day and age, is a team allowed to instill such a discriminatory policy? Even if the policy can be seen as “positive discrimination”?

Now an L.A. Superior Court will get their say. Before more’s known about the case, it’s hasty to assume how far it will go, let alone if Chivas USA will end up paying anything to the coaches. Still, a lot of questions that were asked throughout the offseason will get some sort of legal reply.

Chelis increasingly sounds like a man broken by Chivas USA

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With each passing day of what looks destined to be his short time in MLS (whether he sprints out of Home Depot Center at the end of the year or before), it’s difficult not to amass an incredible amount of sympathy for Jose Luis Sanchez Sola. You know him as Chelis. Brought north from Mexico to be a leader and figurehead of a wayward franchise, the Chivas USA boss sounds increasingly like a broken man.

Witness the reporting of Zac Rigg, who was on site yesterday at HDC as Chelis sought to explain another demoralizing performance. Having lost at home 4-1 to Real Salt Lake, the former Puebla man was left with “eyes welled up,” blankly and fruitlessly considering the situation he’s been drawn into.

Here’s what else we learned from Goal’s report:

  • “We don’t have the weapons to win,” Chelis said. “The lineup is limited, very limited.”
  • Chivas USA reportedly got only $75,000 from New England for Juan Agudelo, the MLS minimum allowed to move in a player sale.
  • Chelis was not consulted about the trade and hasn’t talked to Chivas owner Jorge Vergara about potential player acquisitions since the day he was hired.
  • Vergara was scheduled to attend Sunday’s match but failed to appear.

The season started with promise, Chivas overcoming an opening night loss to win three of their next four. Now, their manager’s left despondent after games, mumbling to reporters while new rumors are churned in the Spanish-language media.

Soon there’ll be a new story, one that says Chivas USA is going to close its doors. MLS will issue a denial. Maybe it’s a new, high profile owner. But that won’t make sense, either.

All the while, the staff in Los Angeles will be tasked with trying to run a business. And Chelis? Somehow, someway, he’s got to prepare a team to try and win games.

Sometimes, that seems like the least interesting thing going on at Chivas.