SBI MLS Season Preview: Chivas USA

By FRANCO PANIZO

There was no denying that Chivas USA needed change after an abysmal 2012 season that saw them finish as the second-worst team in the league.

Few could have envisioned this much.

Aside from appointing a new head coach in the mercurial Jose ‘Chelis’ Sanchez, Chivas USA disposed of most of the players on last year’s roster and replaced them with latino players. The controversial makeover has drawn much attention from fans and media alike this offseason, but much of the criticism will be silenced should the Goats make substantial progress in 2013.

To do that, Sanchez will need to work some serious magic. The 54-year-old Mexican needs to to not only piece together a team that has so many new parts, but also adjust on the fly to a league that he is still learning.

All signs are pointing to Chivas USA going through another rough year in 2013, but the team is thinking otherwise. Regardless, Chivas USA’s massive overhaul has made them one of the more interesting teams to follow this season and their journey in 2013 will be closely tracked.

Here is a closer look at Chivas USA ahead of the 2013 MLS season:

CHIVAS USA PREVIEW

2012 FINISH: 7-18-9, 30 points (Last in Western Conference)

KEY ACQUISITIONS: M Carlos Alvarez, M Eric Avila, D Carlos Borja, D Mario de Luna, M Edgar Mejia, F Giovani Casillas, D Walter Vilchez, D Joaquin Velazquez

KEY LOSSES: F Juan Pablo Angel, F Alejandro Moreno, F Casey Townsend, D Danny Califf, M Nick LaBrocca, D James Riley, M Shalrie Joseph

NEWCOMER TO WATCH: M Carlos Alvarez – The rookie out of UConn made no secret of his desire to play for Chivas USA – his father played for their sister club, Mexican powerhouse Chivas de Guadalajara – and now he will need to prove he was worth taking with the No. 2 overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft back in January. Alvarez has the talent to help jumpstart an attack, but it will be worth keeping an eye on how quickly he will adjust to the professional game and increased expectations.

THE PRESSURE IS ON:┬áJose ‘Chelis’ Sanchez – Fair or not, Chivas USA is counting on Sanchez to help turn the club’s losing ways and quickly. Sanchez has not shied away from the spotlight since being named head coach in early December and is confident in his abilities, so he will be looked at as the one responsible for the Goats’ revival or continued futility.

OUTLOOK:

Chivas USA are banking on their revisited approach of fielding a team comprised of mostly latino players. The Goats got rid of – and, in some cases, donated – a number of proven MLS players like midfielder Shalrie Joseph and defender Danny Califf while bringing in players with Mexican heritage and that of other latin countries.

Still, Chelis still has to shoot down the notion that he is only out to sign Mexicans or Mexican-Americans.

“Look at my roster and 50 percent of my players are Mexican and Mexican-Americans. The other 50 percent are from the U.S., South America and other parts of the world,” Sanchez told SBI. “What is happening here and what is bothering some people (within the organization) is that a team like Chivas USA last year did not have one Mexican player and only had one Mexican-American, just one.

“Having 50 percent from Mexico, which is what I understand is the idea now, it surprises people. I understand soccer has to be much more global and universal and that’s how the team is built, with 50 percent Mexicans and 50 percent from elsewhere. As for Mexicans from Mexico, there are four, just four.”

No matter where the influx of talent has come from, that much turnover needs time to gel. Yes, Chivas USA had success in the preseason with their new-look squad but players gaining chemistry with one another will likely be a work in progress throughout the season.

“I’d imagine the more time we have together, the more we’re going to get to know each other, just like any other marriage or friendship,” Sanchez told SBI. “As of today, we are ready to play to the best of our abilities and I hope this is good enough, because (if it does not work out) it’s not the players faults, it’s my fault. I’m unfamiliar with the league, completely unfamiliar, but I see my team and I see them very, very well. Hopefully, this pans out in this league.”

Dan Kennedy, Juan Agudelo and Miller Bolanos are the only returning projected starters from 2012 and while they are getting used to the style Sanchez is trying to implement, they are also trying to learn about the head coach himself.

“He’s good crazy,” Agudelo told SBI. “He’s the kind of guy that motivates you and he does a couple of crazy things, but in the outcome you realize that it’s for the good. He’s pretty intense, pretty funny. He’s a good guy.”

With Sanchez in charge, Chivas USA are hoping for a bounce-back year. Whether that happens given all the turnover the club has endured this offseason is unknown, but Sanchez is hoping that 2013 can be a good year for himself and his new team.

“I’d imagine for the team the goal is to make the playoffs,” said Sanchez. “For me, it’s to please the people. My only objective is to have the people leave the stadium happy after seeing how Chivas USA performs on the field.”

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15 Responses to SBI MLS Season Preview: Chivas USA

  1. Zack says:

    Go Chelis! Go Chivas! If you can make the Goats a success it will be a huge payoff for the fans and the league. Mexicans and Mexican-Americans still prefer the higher level product made in Mexico. If the Goats can attract even a passing interest from fans of Liga MX, it will double the MLS fan base.

    Also, who doesn’t like to see attractive, attacking football.

  2. Hogatroge says:

    Personally, I’ve thought all the hullabaloo over Chivas looking for a “Mexican-American” identity is overblown.

    Nobody’s been simply cut because they don’t fit the mold… they’ve all been traded within the league or waived because they weren’t thought good enough. Minority players from other teams aren’t ringing up the ACLU when they’re fairly waived.

    Yes, everyone hates Chivas USA’s ownership, but so do Guadalajara’s fans. Don’t let that blind you.

    Chelis is, for the most part, right. The vast majority of the roster are Americans, even if they have Mexican heritage.

    The best we can hope for is that Agudelo has a breakout year and Chivas USA stops begin an embarrassment to the league.

    • Creige says:

      While I doubt anyone is going to sue and couldn’t be sure of the outcome, there is no question that the intent was to cull the non-latino. Some of them I understand like Joseph who was very expensive. I have to question the release of James Riley and Nick LaBrocca, who were top performers for Chivas and are relatively cheap. However, I understand the intent is to play a more technical and fluid latin style of play and for that you need people from countries or regions of the US that play that style. They’ve made some good acquisitions and I doubt they can do any worse than last year.

      • Chris says:

        Regarding Riley and LaBrocca, I was sad to see them go, but what everyone needs to keep in mind is that 2011 was LaBrocca break out season for the goats, last year he was pretty flat, due mostly to being hampered by injury. As far as Riley goes, it seems there are conflicting stories, and misunderstandings due to a the language barrier (Riley doesn’t speak Spanish, and Chelis is still working on his English) or possibly the F.O. /GM over ruling Chelis. Riley said he wanted to stay, Chelis claims he had him in his plans, he still got traded so we may never know what really went down. I’ve heard some people who watched some of the preseason say Riley looked a little out of step, but I wouldn’t put much in that.

        The player movement I scratch my head over is Zemanski being sent to the Timbers. When I first heard of the news I thought they might be going after Bornstein (which would at least make the trade worthwhile) but Chelis later said that wasn’t the case. I hope Chelis is just playing head games ala Schmid/ Joseph.

        • Nic says:

          they are going t go after Bornstein. Dennis te kloese ( the dutch brain trust)the president of operations calls a lot of he shots. he is who influences Vergara in terms of player movement. before he came back to the chivas system he was working for Tigres UANL as a scout. He wants Bornstein back on the team. It will happen in the summer if Brnstein contines to get overlooked in the Tigres system

  3. PD says:

    I just want Agudelo to score a bunch of goals and get overseas.

  4. Betamale says:

    So if they fail this year can they finally leave the league? Chivas USA is such a stain on an otherwise improving league.

    Chivas started when there was a huge identity crisis in MLS and the league was looking to “cash in” on an already established market. Now that that has failed miserably and the league has changed their approach (with teams like Timbers, Sounders, Union, etc) can we just cut them loose and pretend like they were never in the league in the first place?

    • Henry says:

      Why cut the most interesting team in league.I have not heard anyone getting people more exited for beginning of the season than Chivas. Don’t get me wrong I hate the goats as a Galaxy fan, but if they are gone then who am I going to hate on?

      • Nic says:

        I’m one of the biggest goats fans there is and I can appreciate this comment. Hate on our team for our lousy futbol or dismall fanbase. But seriously stop calling for us to leave the league.

  5. Gary Page says:

    I don’t care what nationality his players are. But when you read the background of the players he brought in, they aren’t exactly distinguished. A recent addition has a good resume but is 37 years old. Agudelo is still unproven, so only the goalie Dan Kennedy seems to be a real standout. Unless Sanchez is a real magician, I’ll be surprised if they make the playoffs. Certainly the Galaxy won’t have to worry much about their competition.

  6. TomG says:

    I think Chivas and Portland are the two most interesting teams to watch in the league this year. The league has become a bit homogenous in terms of style and tactics so it will be fun to watch games with these two if only for a bit of something different. Will they both be successful? Probably not, but I still think they are intriguing and I’m very much looking forward to watching them. I hope they are on lots of game of the weeks.

    • OPMG says:

      Every league eventually becomes a league where most teams play a similar style. It’s part of the evolution of tactics and counter-tactics. You see the NFL moving to spread offenses and away from ground and pound running games. The forces counter-tactics on the defensive side to hybrid, mobile linebackers that can cover the pass. If a newer system of philosophy gains traction and succeeds in MLS, you’ll see other teams adopt it as well. Criticizing a league’s play or style as being too much like everyone else is an exercise in futility.

  7. solles says:

    Well, can say one thing about Chivas USA right now: it has been a very long time since people have talked about them this much headed into a season.

    I’m not sure I see the difference between what they’re doing now and what they were doing in 2005 when they entered the league, in terms of focusing on latin-american players. Not sure how they expect to have more success (or any success at all, really) with that strategy the second time around…

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