There are a host of good reasons -- starting with Chivas USA’s average attendance of 7,063 -- that the owners of L.A.’s new MLS club will wait two years before launching an expansion franchise with its own home and identity.
If there was one argument for maintaining continuity and playing next season in store-bought jerseys, however, it would be Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres. The 21-year-old striker tallied 15 goals in 29 matches this year, an impressive total for a player so young on a team so poor (the rest of the Chivas USA roster managed 14 goals combined). His value might be greater than the sum of those goals. Torres is a rising star capable of connecting with a legion of Mexican-American soccer fans, and his recent call-ups to the Mexican national team strike a blow in favor of those who believe MLS can nurture real international talent.
But because of the decision to shutter Chivas USA permanently and start from scratch, there’s next to no chance that Henry Nguyen and his partners – the owners of LA2 – will be able to showcase Torres when they enter MLS in 2017. By then, the striker will either be back in Mexico or locked into a lucrative Designated Player contract with another MLS club.
Chivas’ MLS fate may be decided, but Torres and the league are at a crossroads. His Rojiblanco teammates, at least those who are under contract or entering an option year, will enter a dispersal draft some time in November, when they will be available to other MLS clubs. MLS executive VP Todd Durbin told reporters during a Monday conference call that details of the draft should be available next week. He added that there may be players whose “situations become so unique that we have to treat them outside the dispersal process.”
That applies to Torres, who played for Chivas USA this year on loan from sister club Chivas de Guadalajara. The MLS club paid him only $152,000, according to figures released by the MLS Players Union, meaning Guadalajara likely picked up a portion of his salary. Torres' loan deal with MLS included an option to purchase his rights at the conclusion of the 2014 season. A source with knowledge of that deal told SI.com on Monday that the transfer fee is $7.5 million. That’s quite a bit by MLS standards and it may be more than a single team is willing or able to pay. It’s been suggested that the league itself (the board of governors/clubs, collectively) likely will front some or all of the fee because it considers Torres an important asset. That’s how MLS acquired Clint Dempsey from Tottenham Hotspur. It then would find a way to allocate Torres to either the highest bidder or through some other kind of mechanism. Durbin said the league will be consulting with its competition committee and the MLS Players Union over the next few days.
“It’s all very much real time,” commissioner Don Garber said. He added, “We’re in discussions with Erick and his representatives about signing a long-term contract.”
With collective bargaining negotiations still to take place -- the current agreement expires after the season -- Torres’ impact on a club’s salary structure or bottom line can’t be predicted. His acquisition and allocation might create some controversy. But his impact on the field already is evident, leaving his fate one of the most intriguing short-term questions surrounding the demise of Chivas USA.