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Rongen Ready to Lead Chivas

The Dutch coach doesn't speak fluent Spanish, but he says he's excited for the chance to take over the newest MLS team in Los Angeles.

September 24, 2004|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

Thomas Rongen was on a roll.

At his introductory news conference at the Home Depot Center on Thursday, his pronunciation was impeccable. His style had flair. His Spanish was coherent.

Then, the coach of Major League Soccer's newest entry in the Southland committed his first misstep.

Breaking from his prepared notes as he thanked his new bosses, Rongen mispronounced the last name of Chivas USA President Antonio Cue, pronouncing it as if he were saying "cue ball" instead of its proper pronunciation of "kway."

The crowd laughed, Cue smiled, and Rongen seemed unaware of his mistake. When it comes to his new job -- coaching an MLS expansion team that caters to a populace whose first language is Spanish and whose undying loyalty is to the Mexican brand of soccer -- ignorance may be bliss.

"It's a daunting task, absolutely, but it's not intimidating," said the Netherlands-born Rongen, 47, who left his job as coach of the United States under-20 men's team for Chivas USA. "But we Dutch, we travel a lot. We relish in the challenge."

Rongen's hiring was initially greeted with howls of protest from Spanish-language media. The new coach does not speak Spanish fluently and investor-operator Jorge Vergara promised that the club would carry on the brand and traditions of its club based in Guadalajara.

The Chivas club in Mexico employs only Mexican players, though it has had non-Mexican coaches.

Since then, however, there have been compromises. The club brought in popular former Chivas goalkeeper Javier "Zuly" Ledesma as an assistant and it announced that while players do not have to be Mexican or Latino, they should speak Spanish.

That goes for the head coach too, who joked that "for the next two months, I'll be with a teacher for two hours a day."

Chivas USA General Manager Whit Haskel predicted that Rongen, who has coached Tampa, New England and Washington in MLS, and Ledesma would be "an ideal pairing."

"Thomas knows the inner workings of MLS, the youth systems, the draft procedures. And Zuly brings the passion, pride and history of Chivas."

*

Galaxy midfielder Andreas Herzog, 36, said that he would retire at season's end to start a coaching career in Austria.

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