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: Jose ‘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.
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.”