As expected, Chivas USA has played its final game. On Monday afternoon, Major League Soccer officially pulled the plug on its failed Southern California soccer experiment, announcing that the 10-year-old club will cease operations and be replaced by an expansion team scheduled to launch in 2017.
As a result, MLS will be a 20-team league next year. Newcomers Orlando City and New York City FC will join the Eastern Conference while Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo – which have combined to claim the past three Eastern titles – will move to the Western Conference. In 2017, Atlanta and the new Los Angeles club will join the league, boosting membership to 22.
MLS plans to announce plans for LA2 on Thursday. As reported last month by SI.com, the new club will be owned by an investor group led by Vietnamese-American businessman Henry Nguyen. He’ll be joined by several minority partners, including Los Angeles Dodgers and Golden State Warriors co-owner Peter Guber and Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan, among others.
Chivas USA’s history and records will not convey to the new club, which will start from scratch as an expansion team. Launched in 2005 by Chivas de Guadalajara owner Jorge Vergara and Mexico City businessman Antonio Cué, Chivas USA was supposed to tap into Southern California’s vast Latino market.
There is some debate about whether it was doomed to fail – the club enjoyed some early success on the field and at the turnstiles – but there now is no question now that it did. Front-office upheaval, inattentive ownership, an exclusionary brand, the long shadow of the LA Galaxy (Chivas USA’s landlord) and an increasingly poor on-field product combined to make Chivas USA MLS’ weakest link.
Vergara bought out Cué in 2012. MLS then spent around $70 million last February to buy out Vergara. A couple of months earlier, MLS commissioner Don Garber told SI.com that Chivas USA represented the most significant setback of his tenure.
MLS recruited former executive VP Nelson Rodriguez to head west and run the club while it was up for sale. It finished 2014 with a 9-19-6 record and defeated the San Jose Earthquakes, 1-0, on Sunday in its final game. Afterward, first-year coach Wilmer Cabrera wrote on Twitter, “A season with a lot of challenges has ended. Despite the uncertainties we managed to finish over 3 MLS teams. Proud of my staff and players.”
Sporting Kansas City
New England Revolution
New York City FC
New York Red Bulls
Real Salt Lake
Orlando City SC
San Jose Earthquakes
In a statement released Monday, Garber said, “As part of our new strategy for Southern California -- a major hotbed of soccer participation and fan support -- we believe that engaging with a new ownership group which has the resources and local community ties, and a plan for a dedicated soccer-specific stadium, provides us with the best chance for success.”
The league’s board of governors voted unanimously to fold Chivas USA, the league said Monday.
SI.com first reported that possibility in early September, when multiple sources indicated that giving new L.A. owners the time and space to re-establish the market's second club was the preferred option. Rebranding and relocating (away from StubHub Center) takes time. The MLS board of governors then met and discussed the matter on Oct. 6. During the ensuing weeks, the sale to Nguyen and his partners was finalized.
While Chivas USA moves to the back of the league's record book alongside the defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion, its players need new homes. MLS will conduct a dispersal draft in November. There is no news regarding the specifics of that process, but the Dec. 1 deadline by which teams must exercise contract options looms large. Players who have contracts guaranteed through next season, like star goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, will find new teams.
The rest will either have their options picked up by a club that selects them or face an immediate future without a contract. The spotlight will shine brightest on 21-year-old forward Erick Torres, whose rights MLS has the option to purchase following his loan from the Guadalajara parent club. Torres, who’s already made his debut (and scored) for the Mexican national team, netted 15 goals in 29 MLS matches this year.
“Real change has been needed for many years with respect to the Chivas franchise," MLS Players' Union executive director Bob Foose said in a statement. "Therefore, we are not surprised by today’s announcement. The cessation of operations presents obvious challenges for the former Chivas players, and we are working with the league to make their transition to other teams as smooth as possible. Fortunately, with two new teams starting league play next year, there will be more opportunities for these players to continue to showcase their talents in MLS.
"We look forward to working with the new franchise when it re-enters MLS. The Los Angeles market can and will successfully support two MLS teams, and we are confident that the new franchise will learn from the mistakes made by Chivas, and will be successful in every way.”
MLS on Monday also announced the scheduling format for next season’s 20-team league. Clubs will play each conference opponent at least twice and each team from the opposite conference once. The remainder of the 34-game regular season schedule will be filled out with six intra-conference matches.