As Chivas USA creeps toward end, GK Dan Kennedy embraces perspective
Dan Kennedy has been the calm amid the storm, the most (and perhaps only) reliable thing about Chivas USA through four years of adversity and upheaval. Since becoming the club’s permanent starter in 2011, Kennedy has tended goal for five head coaches. And he’s the only player remaining from that 8-14-12 season, which remains Chivas’ best since the dismissal of manager Preki Radosavljevic following the ’09 campaign.
Goalkeepers who average 16 losses per year and yield 1.6 goals per game tend not to last. But Kennedy’s statistics since 2011 reflect the siege he’s often under rather than his abilities. If not for his heroics, the records likely would be even worse. The 32-year-old has won respect, if not matches, and in 2012 he was a finalist for the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award despite his team’s last-place finish.
Rather than angle for an escape, however, Kennedy recommitted. He signed a contract extension last spring that’s guaranteed through 2015. Playing near home was nice – Kennedy hails from Orange County – but loyalty to the club that stood by him meant more. Even if that club has stood for little else.
“Of course I’ve thought about it,” he said when asked if he imagined the accolades and opportunities that might have come if he’d played for a better team.
“Not a lot people may know this,” he continued, “But the MetroStars [now the New York Red Bulls] passed on me. Chivas passed on me [after selecting him toward the end of the 2005 supplemental draft]. The Galaxy passed on me. I tried out in Salt Lake. They passed on me. FC Dallas passed on me. These clubs didn’t give me the opportunity to play. My career was made here, at the club that gave me the opportunity to play. That’s driven me. That’s given me motivation.”
And he remains motivated, even as Chivas USA’s MLS tenure draws to close. Los Rojiblancos will be no more after Sunday’s regular season finale against the San Jose Earthquakes. Purchased by MLS from Jorge Vergara in February, Chivas is in the process of being sold to a consortium that intends to rebrand and relaunch the club.
Multiple sources told SI.com last month that a hiatus almost surely will be necessary, with a new second LA club on course to take its place in 2017, meaning under-contract players like Kennedy will have to move elsewhere in MLS. Many teammates face even more uncertainty. Clubs that aren’t competing in the conference finals have until Dec. 1 to tell players entering an option year whether they’ll be retained in 2015, thereby putting pressure on MLS to finalize and announce the sale by next month.
“We can be anywhere, that’s for sure. We have no official word, and we’re acting as if we have games to play, and that’s our focus in the short-term,” Kennedy said. “We’ve had conversations internally, as a team, and that’s what it’s been about. Just make the most of this moment and try to overcome the odds and try to surprise some people.”
Maintaining a bit of sanity as losses accumulate and crowds dwindle can require searching for small victories. Prior to Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat at Real Salt Lake, Chivas had won two straight. That was its second winning streak of the season. It was 0-11-1 in its previous dozen MLS matches, but Kennedy found the silver lining.
“There’s a stat that we hadn’t won a game in October in quite a few years. I’m proud that we’ve responded and it certainly hasn’t been an easy season for multiple reasons. But we’re getting on with it,” he said, crediting first-year coach Wilmer Cabrera for “keeping the team together amidst all the speculation.”
Despite his seven seasons at Chivas – he was behind Brad Guzan and Zach Thornton for a while – Kennedy isn’t fazed by uncertainty. He recounts his professional odyssey with clarity, as if he’s just returned, and said his stints with the second-tier (and now defunct) Puerto Rico Islanders and Chile’s CD Iquique in 2007-08 helped him acclimate to Chivas USA’s Latino culture. It also taught him that nothing is guaranteed. There was a time when Chivas USA was a playoff team competing before crowds that hovered around (or even eclipsed) the MLS average. It was unsustainable. Similarly, a pro’s career rarely is a given.
“This is how it is. There’s maybe more speculation in terms of where this club is going to be, but in terms of being a soccer player, a professional athlete, you’re always auditioning. You’re always fighting for a job,” he said. “My career isn’t getting any longer and I feel like I really am at a great point where I can make a real impact on a team, whether that’s in Los Angeles or across the United States. I’d be ready to do it. I’m eager to continue to play and fight and prove myself in this league.”
Wherever he heads next, whether it’s across the hall to the LA Galaxy or across the country, Kennedy will remain a massive part of Chivas USA’s legacy. He will end up as the club’s all-time leader in appearances and minutes played. When announcing the contract extension last year, former technical director Juan Francisco Palencia – a Mexican legend running a club eager to prioritize its Mexican roots – said the goalkeeper was Chivas USA’s “symbol.” The logo and won-loss record won’t suffice, so Kennedy may have to.
He’s not ready to address that legacy. There’s one more game to go and a good chunk of a career left to play.
“We’ll finish this week, in great fashion I hope, and once the season ends I imagine there will be some conversations with us players that will fill us in on what’s happening for the future,” he said. “It’s going to be tricky … There’s so many great people who work in this organization, not only players but front office, and this is going to impact a lot of lives based on how it goes. If we can just change names and continue to play next year, I’m on board. We’ll get this done. If they do close the doors, I just hope everyone’s treated as fairly as possible and given the opportunity to compete somewhere.”