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L.A. Will Get Second Pro Soccer Team

Mexican owner of two franchises will add a third, Chivas USA, which will share Carson facility with Galaxy.

June 05, 2004|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

Before the month is out, Los Angeles will have a second professional soccer team, Chivas USA, owned by Mexican businessman Jorge Vergara and playing alongside the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center.

Major League Soccer will make the announcement within the next week or two, but The Times has learned that Vergara, the league and Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which operates five of the 10 MLS teams, are close to -- but have not signed -- an agreement.

Under its terms, Chivas USA will share the Home Depot Center with the Galaxy, and both teams will play there, probably on alternate weekends, during the eight-month MLS season, starting in 2005.

The club's offices also will be at the 2-year-old sports complex in Carson.

Vergara, who owns Club Deportivo Guadalajara, better known as Chivas, of the Mexican league and Deportivo Saprissa, champion of the Costa Rican league, wanted to be in Los Angeles all along but explored the possibility of putting the MLS expansion team in San Diego, Houston or Chicago.

The first two cities are no longer in the running, and a stadium-sharing agreement involving Chivas USA and the Chicago Fire now is considered only a remote possibility.

It appears more likely that Chicago is being used as a bargaining chip by one or more of the parties involved to hasten or sweeten the Los Angeles agreement.

Both MLS and AEG have been coy about discussing the deal. Tim Leiweke, AEG's president, could not be reached Friday. A spokesman said he was in meetings all day.

Leiweke is the Galaxy's representative on the MLS board of governors, which approved putting Chivas USA in either Los Angeles or Chicago -- as opposed to a new market -- during a meeting in April at the Colorado ranch of Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz.

Don Garber, the league's commissioner, confirmed Friday that Los Angeles was a candidate. He insisted, however, that Chicago was not entirely out of the picture.

"Detailed discussions are taking place between Chivas and AEG regarding the possibility of [Chivas USA] playing next year in Los Angeles," Garber said.

The league also plans to expand to another city in 2005, and the list of candidates has been narrowed to four unidentified cities. A decision is expected shortly.

"Obviously, timing being critical," Garber said. "We hope to finalize our 2005 expansion plans in the immediate future."

In Guadalajara, meanwhile, Ivar Sisniega, the executive president of Chivas and Vergara's right-hand man, maintained that although Los Angeles was favored, Chicago remained a viable option.

"Officially, we haven't decided where we're going to play yet," he said. "We're still in conversations with AEG and with MLS.

"We can't announce anything until we've reached a legal agreement, and that's probably still maybe two or three weeks away."

Vergara's long-stated desire has been to have a team in Los Angeles, where Chivas has a huge following and where Chivas USA also would be expected to draw well. Chivas and Mexico City's Club America are Mexico's most popular teams.

The decision to allow a second MLS team in Los Angeles was made only after AEG had commissioned a study on the effect Chivas USA would have on the Galaxy, which has averaged a league-high 21,083 fans a game over the last eight years.

The study showed that, based on demographics, there were enough fans locally to support both clubs and, as important, to create a genuine rivalry.

Chivas USA's aim is to reach Mexican American fans, making Los Angeles an obvious target.

But Chicago, more specifically, suburban Cicero, is making a late run.

"Chicago and Los Angeles demographically are our best options," Sisniega said. "Los Angeles has more Mexican Americans; Chicago has a very concentrated group around Cicero and the part of Chicago that's very close to Cicero, which is very Mexican and very connected to Chivas.

"They're both very natural markets for us.

"We think that a cross-town rivalry in either city would create more awareness of the sport. It seems like MLS needs to reach across to the Hispanic market, so we're hoping to serve as a bridge."

MLS and AEG "have set prices for both markets, and that's part of the considerations we're discussing and analyzing before we decide which one to go to," he added.

"The city is still up for grabs. There are some very generous offers in Chicago, about land and creating a Chivas club there, so there's some interesting stuff on the table."

What has been resolved is that Chivas USA will be like Chivas in many ways.

Founded in 1906, Chivas is unique in Mexico's league in that it uses only Mexican players. Even though other Mexican clubs import high-priced players from throughout Central and South America, no foreign player has ever worn the vertical red-and-white-striped Chivas jersey.

Chivas USA will wear the same uniform, but with a different logo.

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