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The Brief, Cursed Existence of Chivas USA

As football becomes ever more cutthroat and profit driven, brand exposure has developed into a prominent aspect of the business. Clubs can take different approaches: some sign players from specific markets or partner with existing teams in certain parts of the globe to increase their profile. Then there’s the case of Jorge Vergara, who in 2005 launched an entirely new franchise, Chivas USA, in an attempt to turn Guadalajara giants Chivas from a regional powerhouse into a global phenom.

The Vision

Wanting to capitalize on the existing Mexican community in Southern California and the United States at large, Vergara and Antonio Cue along with his brother Lorenzo based their new club in Carson, just south of downtown Los Angeles. Sharing a stadium and facilities with the LA Galaxy, Chivas aimed to eventually overtake its more illustrious neighbor in terms of stature. It didn’t quite work out that way, however.

A terrible inaugural season—head coach Thomas Rongen didn’t make it through the year; Chivas finished bottom of the standings—threatened to set the tone for what was to come. Indeed, the Chivas project is largely regarded as an unmitigated disaster nowadays, but in reality, the Goats were actually quite successful for a while.

The Glory Years

In the club’s sophomore campaign, Bob Bradley was brought in to steady the ship. He led Chivas into the playoffs and was named Coach of the Year as well as earning the head coaching gig of the US men’s national team. His assistant, MLS legend Preki, took over and even eclipsed Bradley’s achievements. Under Preki’s stewardship, the Goats finished top of the Western Conference in 2007 and missed out on the Supporters’ Shield by only two points.

Chivas USA made the playoffs every year between 2006 and 2009, serving as a springboard for future national team players like Brad Guzan, Sacha Kljestan, and Jonathan Bornstein. However, after 2009, things began to unravel.

Demise

With results turning sour and attendances dwindling, Vergara bought out the Cue brothers and became the sole owner of the club. But the eccentric businessman soon took on the role of a pariah. Much-needed investment wasn’t forthcoming, and after a discrimination lawsuit had been leveled at Vergara, Chivas was a sinking ship. Following the 2014 season, the club ceased operations.

MLS acquired the franchise from Vergara and awarded its rights to an LA-based investor group. In 2018, Los Angeles FC played its debut season. LA once again boasts two MLS teams—and one of the fiercest rivalries in the league—but the fate of Chivas USA will always act as a cautionary tale for any new expansion club.

 

Illustration by: @pinisantoro