Why Does CD Chivas USA Seem to Have More Internationals Than Other MLS Teams?

Taking a glance of the CD Chivas USA roster is like looking at a veritable who’s who of Mexican soccer. Juan Pablo Garcia. Paco Palencia. Ramon Ramirez. In fact the only notable CD Chivas Guadalajara player not on the Chivas USA roster is Bofo himself, old No. 100 accustomed more for his on-field antics and bizarre hairdos than his scoring. But he wouldn’t count anyhow since he’s not from Mexico.

It’s like looking at the Guadalajara club itself, without the mention of the team’s 100th anniversary or the usual Chivas pageantry, the red-and-white striped clad fans that follow the team to the end of the Earth. That gets tossed aside with the fact that the Mexican Primera league is currently on hiatus, a fact that can’t hurt the MLS side and its chances in beating weaker opposition in the States.

The scoring, well, that’s taken care of on the mainland in spades. CD Chivas USA’s 32 goals this year currently ranks third in the Western Conference. And let’s not forget Ramirez, the midfield general responsible for leading El Tri, the Mexican national team, to three World Cups past and now the catalyst for Bob Bradley’s rejuvenated squad currently holding up third place and not too far from the top of the table.

It’s like looking at, well, a watered-down version of the old New York Cosmos, except the way in which Chivas USA has changed the face of its team looks to have been accomplished per MLS rules. By comparison the Cosmos pulled superstars from every corner of the globe, as did other teams in the North American Soccer League, though the Cosmos’ opponents had far less success. With just four senior international players on its roster, the league limit, about 10 developmental players and this year’s addition of veterans including All-Star forward Ante Razov and U.S. national team midfielder John O’Brien Chivas USA has set itself from the rest of the league in a hurry.

It wasn’t that way last year, when the expansion team had the worst record in MLS, giving up a league-high 67 goals and 18 points, good enough for last place, though it utilized to the fullest its four senior-international allocations. Nobody can argue with Chivas USA’s success this year, especially after their horrendous first year in which the club finished 12th out of 12 teams. Nobody thought Chivas USA was much to crow about last season. Nobody talked about the club’s rich 100-year tradition or that it might take awhile for the team to settle in. In games you could see glimpses of what the club might do when last season they occasionally lined up in their traditional 3-4-3, known for its attacking principles and not much else, not even in Mexico, where the parent club almost always plays the Dutch style of soccer.

Oh, have times changed.

Whatever Jorge Vergara, Chivas owner did to allow his club to set up what is, virtually, a farm system in the United States, is certainly paying off without breaking any MLS rules and may result in the club’s first MLS Cup. You couldn’t see beyond that in their first year in MLS because of the ridiculous amounts of goals they allowed every game. But if you knew anything about the Dutch way of playing free-flowing, beautiful soccer, you would have noticed longtime Dutch teacher Hans Westerhof, now the Chivas sporting director, on the sidelines. You see, they saw something they liked. And Westerhof wasn’t just fired as the Chivas USA head coach; he was, in fact, promoted to run the Guadalajara club. Even with a poor track record in their first MLS season.

You see, Chivas USA was just biding its time.

But the word around the league, though nobody will actually go on record having said it, is that Chivas USA is no different from the Cosmos in the way they have created their team in the United States. They brought in players in a different manner from that which MLS is accustomed, by moving a few seasoned veterans from their top club, CD Chivas Guadalajara to the MLS club. Chivas USA added a few players from the MLS Draft, settled into their current free-flowing, attacking style of play and added yet another piece to the puzzle in getting O’Brien from Europe. They are doing what the Cosmos did without spending Cosmos-like money.

They brought on Bob Bradley, an up-and-coming coach who has already won an MLS Cup with the Chicago Fire and looks as though he may add more very soon and may become the next U.S. men’s national team manager. The team all of L.A. is talking about is not the Galaxy, reigning MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup holders. It is Chivas USA, which has all of California in its clutches, as youth programs are seemingly popping up in every corner of the state. At last count the club boasted 9 youth academies in California, two on the Home Depot Center property itself, with 2 more soon to open in towns like Orosi and San Juan Capistrano. In addition to the academies the club has established its won youth tournament and holds soccer clinics across the state. The club is philanthropic as well, with a community foundation, a commitment to build a soccer complex in the beleaguered Bell Gardens area of Los Angeles and a graffiti-prevention program.

If Real Madrid CF is to follow Chivas USA’s lead and open academies around the West as rumored, they already have a long way to go to catch up. They will have to equal all of Mexico, particularly the Jalisco region and most of California. It is a daunting task ahead. What MLS is finding out, however, is that Chivas USA isn’t going the way of Real Salt Lake, the sister squad to Real Madrid. The Goats are here to stay and it has more to do with tradition, though the winning isn’t hurting anything. With the name recognition, the youth academies and the commitment to winning games and winning over families Chivas is putting in place generations of followers and players, just as they have for one century in their homeland. And it has everything to do with its people. Think Red Bull New York isn’t paying attention? The first thing new coach Bruce Arena committed to in his first day on the job was better youth development and yes, more club academies.

Though the team has been thought of as a watered-down version of the New York Cosmos, Chivas USA has done nothing wrong in MLS or for the league. They are simply following a blueprint that has served them well for 100 years in Mexico.

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