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Rongen Will Lead MLS' Chivas USA

Former coach in the league, now in charge of the U.S. under-20 team, will be introduced today by the expansion club.

September 23, 2004|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

Thomas Rongen, a former coach of three Major League Soccer teams and the United States' under-20 men's coach since 2001, will be introduced today as coach of the expansion Chivas USA club that will begin play next season, sources close to the organization confirmed.

A news conference to announce the franchise's official name -- expected to be Club Deportivo Chivas USA, or CD Chivas USA -- as well as its colors and logo, will be held at 11 a.m. in the Home Depot Center and attended by investor-operator Jorge Vergara, President Antonio Cue, Chief Executive Javier Leon, General Manager Whit Haskel and, from the Chivas flagship in Guadalajara, Executive President Ivar Sisniega and Technical Director Hans Westerhoff.

Other candidates for the coaching position reportedly included Sergio Lugo Barron, Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre, Javier "Zully" Ledezma and Fernando Quirarte.

Rongen, who resides near Washington, D.C., could not be reached for comment.

The choice of the Dutch-born Rongen, 47, is intriguing; he speaks three languages but not Spanish. Chivas USA officials have said from the beginning that they would keep the franchise as "Mexican" as possible, and Rongen has pledged to learn the language as Chivas' mission, as far as languages go, is Spanish first. Rongen, a friend and countryman of Westerhoff, is well-acquainted with the inner workings of MLS and American soccer.

Rongen was the league's first coach of the year in 1996, leading the since-contracted Tampa Bay Mutiny to an MLS-best record of 20-12 and the Eastern Conference regular-season title with a league-high 66 goals.

He moved to New England in 1997 and in two years the Revolution had a combined record of 26-38 (15-17 and 11-21). Rongen then succeeded Bruce Arena at D.C. United in 1999.

With D.C. United, Rongen won MLS Cup '99, beating the Galaxy, 2-0.

Rongen's honeymoon in the nation's capital was short-lived, however, as D.C. United finished 8-18-6 in 2000 and 8-16-2 in 2001, and was the only club to not qualify for the playoffs during that two-year span, a frightful development for a proud franchise that played in MLS' first four title games.

Scorned by fans and media after putting up the worst combined MLS record over the two seasons, Rongen paid for D.C. United's sudden losing ways with his job after the 2001 season.

He found new life with the man he had replaced, though, as Arena, who had left D.C. United for the U.S. men's team, tabbed Rongen to take over the U.S. under-20 men's team on Dec. 26, 2001.

Rongen led the team to the quarterfinals of the 2003 world youth championships in the United Arab Emirates. He is often credited with the development of several current MLS players, including Freddy Adu, the 15-year-old rookie forward for D.C. United; and the Galaxy's Ned Grabavoy, a rookie midfielder, and Memo Gonzalez, the second-year and seldom-used midfielder who has talked of playing for Chivas USA next year.

Coaching in the Southland will be somewhat of a homecoming for the first Chivas USA coach. Rongen left the Netherlands, where he played for European soccer giant Ajax of Amsterdam and made 25 appearances with the country's Olympic team, in 1979 to play with the Los Angeles Aztecs of the old North American Soccer League.

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