Put up or shut up for Chivas USA
Having ties to a rich and powerful foreign club seemed like a built-in advantage for Chivas USA. The ability to acquire and develop young Mexican talent and having strong financial backing seemed like a great opportunity for the Southern California-based team to build a powerhouse in a relatively short amount of time.
Unfortunately for the franchise, that's still a pipe dream. So far, it has been a series of missed opportunities for Chivas USA. Instead of being Chivas de Guadalajara's American arm, the two are sister clubs who don't do enough to foster their relationship. And the talent that
Chivas USA has another opportunity to break through and create history. The team's Western Conference semifinal series against the archrival Los Angeles Galaxy could be the club's loftiest accomplishment to date. (The teams are tied 2-2 after the first leg and meet in the second leg on Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2.) A win would help Chivas USA claim its first playoff series triumph, and to achieve that against the Galaxy would be an added and huge bonus.
Whatever the result, it's clear the club needs something grand in 2010 to change its lackluster history. Winning an MLS Cup would be a great accomplishment but, short of that, Chivas USA will start 2010 the same it has these last several seasons: wondering what it can do to break through and make a mark in MLS.
Stockpiling its roster with a big Mexican name seems like the first and most important step to accomplish that, but it's a dangerous notion. Mexican players have had a checkered history in MLS. Sure,
Trying to bring in a high-profile Mexican player hasn't worked for the club so far --
This year, Chivas USA's roster includes
Luring a high-profile Mexican star is not the answer for this club. The odds of acquiring a Davino instead of a Blanco are high, and such an acquisition would only deal the club another blow. The team reached for top-level talent in '06 when it traded away its Designated Player slot to New York in exchange for
However, it may have been a blessing in disguise precisely because it has prevented the team from chasing after potentially overpaid and underachieving Mexican talent. After all, how well has
The good news for Chivas USA is that despite a lack of marquee talent, Mexican or otherwise, the fan support hasn't wavered for three seasons now. The club's attendance figures were nearly identical from '08 to '09, as the team averaged a hair more than 15,000 per home game each season. The co-tenant Galaxy, meanwhile, dropped off nearly 6,000 fans per game, making Chivas USA's unchanging figures seem even more remarkable.
And the Goats' first game against the Galaxy in the conference semifinals last weekend was truly a home game, as 25,218 turned out. A majority of the fans there were dressed in red-and-white and made more noise than the Galaxy's contingent of supporters. And the crowd was bigger than any of the Galaxy's previous playoff games at Home Depot Center.
Thus, landing a high-profile Mexican talent is not necessary to build its fan base. Chivas USA, after all, had a higher home-attendance average than Blanco's Chicago Fire, and outdrew successful Eastern clubs such as New England and Columbus.
Still, what will set Chivas USA apart will be playoff success. If the club fails to get past the Galaxy, it will have to live with the shame of four consecutive first-round exits, made even more difficult by having the dishonor of losing to its hated rivals.
A triumph over the Galaxy would provide a lift the club has needed since the beginning and would be a turning point for the franchise. Then, the club's history would start featuring promises fulfilled instead of neglected potential.