Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN ITEL
Oh, Chivas USA.
Let’s just say there have certainly been better times for the “other” club in Los Angeles. Yet another dismal year on the field in 2013 – resulting in the dismissal of two head coaches – led to what was perhaps MLS’ biggest news item of the offseason: the purchase by the league of the club from former owners Jorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes.
Now, heading into the 2014 season, the only thing that is clear is the fact that nothing is clear.
The league is currently seeking a new ownership group with the hope that it takes over the club for the 2015 season. But until then, it appears Chivas USA will float through the upcoming season in a sort of purgatory.
Throw in the fact that the Goats’ roster has been completely overhauled, save for a few of their top players from last year, and yet another new coach has been brought in, and it doesn’t readily appear Chivas are headed anywhere but back to the bottom of the Western Conference.
But there are some positives.
New coach Wilmer Cabrera knows the league as a longtime Colorado Rapids assistant and is widely respected, having also previously spent time as the U.S. U-17 national team head coach.
And some of the new players that have been brought in have potential.
Former Portland Timbers center back Andrew Jean-Baptiste, named to the league’s 23-Under-23 list signifying MLS’ top young talent, former Seattle Sounders playmaker Mauro Rosales and Argentine defensive midfielder Agustin Pelletieri, are no slouches.
“What we saw last year, Chivas USA was fighting,” Cabrera told reporters during his introduction. “I was on the other side, and we saw them working hard. But they couldn’t find the results or their form early. In this case, with the changes we’ve made, we’re looking for talent that can adapt and experienced players that know the league.”
Here is a closer look at Chivas USA ahead of the 2014 season:
CHIVAS USA SEASON PREVIEW
2013 FINISH: 6-20-8, 26 points (9th in Western Conference)
KEY ACQUISITIONS: D Andrew Jean-Baptiste, M Mauro Rosales, M Agustin Pelletieri, M Tommy McNamara, F Luke Moore, F Adolfo “Bofo” Bautista
KEY LOSES: F Tristan Bown, M Jorge Villafana, M Gabriel Farfan, M Edgar Mejia,
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: Mauro Rosales. Cabrera will likely pin his hopes on ending the revolving door that was the Chivas midfield last year on the 33-year-old Rosales. The Argentine was once the centerpiece to the high-powered Seattle Sounders offense, recording 34 assists the past three seasons. And while he may be on the downslope to an impressive career, with youngsters like Erick Torres and Tommy McNamara expected to play big roles on this year’s team, Rosales will also be relied upon for his experience and leadership.
THE PRESSURE IS ON: Wilmer Cabrera. His success at the U.S. national team youth levels has earned Cabrera respect among his peers, but 2014 will likely be seen as an audition for the team’s new owners. And whether he’s brought back in 2015 will hinge on how quickly he’s able to bring a group of newcomers together in addition to the growth of the club’s crop of talented young players.
OUTLOOK: It feels like a best-case, worst-case scenario for Cabrera and Chivas USA heading into the 2014 season.
And considering that the Goats are embarking on a new era, albeit one yet to be determined, let’s start with the optimistic side of things.
It’s easy to see a best-case scenario lining up for Chivas. All of their offseason acquisitions appear to be smart and address glaring weaknesses from last year.
Their leaky defense – despite featuring one of the league’s most talented goalkeepers in Dan Kennedy – was shored up with the acquisition of Jean-Baptiste, who is one of the most athletic CBs in the league and at 21 years old still has plenty of room to grow. He featured along Caleb Porter’s back line with the Timbers for most of last season before a rapid fall from grace after recurring mental lapses. But that can be fixed, and former U.S. international and cagey veteran Carlos Bocanegra, expected to line up next to him, can certainly help with that.
The addition of Pelletieri also adds to Chivas’ backbone. He’s a veteran of Argentina’s top flight and was the captain of his previous club, Racing. And with Oswaldo Minda likely filling the role of a true defensive midfielder, Pelletieri will also have the opportunity to show off his attacking skills.
At forward, Torres was one of Chivas’ bright spots last year, with seven goals in his inaugural MLS campaign. And a partnership with former Aston Villa veteran Luke Moore can only help by taking the pressure off young attacker.
Now for the worst case.
There’s a reason why Portland dumped a player with Jean-Baptiste’s physical tools. Maybe he never becomes ready to play a big role in this league, and with an aging Bocanegra at his side, it’s easy to see the Chivas USA defense making no strides from last year when they gave up a league-leading 67 goals.
The adjustment of foreigners to MLS isn’t always an easy one, so whether Pelletieri and Moore ever adapt will be crucial. With Rosales’ age, there could be a lot of questions to be answered at midfield yet again.
And while Torres proved to be a revelation last season, he is only 21 years old, meaning there could be a regression yet to come in his game. The rookie McNamara also appears set to play a big role in Chivas USA’s attack, so that’s a lot of responsibility on two very young players.
Regardless, it’s safe to say that Cabrera has his hands full.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP