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GRAHAME L. JONES / ON SOCCER

Robin Fraser, Greg Vanney look forward to challenge of turning around Chivas USA

The two former Galaxy defenders have been named coach and assistant coach, respectively, for the Chivas USA, which is at a low point and lacking direction.

January 08, 2011|Grahame L. Jones | On Soccer
  • Robin Fraser during his MLS playing days with the Columbus Crew.
Robin Fraser during his MLS playing days with the Columbus Crew. (A. Messerschmidt / MLS )

Tired of the almost daily soap opera that is David Beckham?

Weary, already, of the prospect of another Beckham-dominated Galaxy season?

Want a complete change of scenery and direction?

Well, the choice is there this year. It arrived back in Southern California last week in the shape of Robin Fraser and Greg Vanney, who were named coach and assistant coach, respectively, of Chivas USA.

At first glance, it would appear to be a poor move by the two former Galaxy defenders. They had comfortable positions with Real Salt Lake, which is riding high in MLS, and their reputations were intact.

Chivas USA, on the other hand, is at a low point, bereft of leadership, lacking direction, and adrift in a sea of mediocrity. But the challenge of turning the club around is exactly what attracted Fraser, 44, to the job.

"I'm very excited about where it is now because of where I know it can be," he said.

Fraser has waited 17 years for this opportunity, ever since getting his U.S. Soccer "A" license in 1993, three years before MLS was founded.

During his 10-year, 260-game playing career in MLS, the Jamaican-born Fraser was regarded as one of the most elegant defenders in the league. He was the first player drafted by the Galaxy in the league's inaugural season in 1996 and was a five-time MLS All-Star.

Vanney, 36, a UCLA graduate and, like Fraser, an MLS original and a former U.S. national team player, has had his eye on the same goal for almost as long.

"It's something we've talked about for many years, coaching together," Vanney said. "It's always been, 'Well, if you end up with a head coaching job first then you'll take me, and if I end up with one then I'll take you.

"I know Robin's qualities as a coach and I knew it was just a matter of time. He's an intelligent guy and very articulate and very clear on what he wants to accomplish as a coach.

"We're excited that it's this club in particular because of the tradition and the history [inherent in the Chivas brand]. We know there are some challenges in front, but we're excited about those. Robin called me and said 'It's time to go, here it is, we've been waiting for this.' "

What "this" is, as of now, is a Chivas club that went 8-14-4 last season and failed to make the playoffs. It is a club that has gone through six coaches in six years. It is a club that cannot determine whether it is the American offshoot of a Mexican team (Chivas de Guadalajara) or a team in its own right.

It is also a club that has consistently lost its best players either to retirement or to other clubs. The list is a long one: Ramon Ramirez, Claudio Suarez, Brad Guzan, Francisco "Panchito" Mendoza, Jesse Marsch, Jonathan Bornstein, Francisco "Paco" Palencia, Sacha Kljestan.

Former Chivas USA players, in fact, make up a better team than current Chivas USA players.

But Fraser and Vanney, who are in Florida this weekend for MLS Player Combine ahead of Thursday's MLS draft, think the players that remain in Carson still have the makings of a competitive team.

"There are a number of good players here," Fraser said. Clarifying player roles and imposing a team ethic will be his first task.

"I'm a firm believer that if you do things the right way — and I'm talking about moving and living and breathing as a team — you get the results you want," he said.

"The results prior to this, I don't really have any comment on. They've certainly been a good team at times and there have been coaches here who have done very well with them at times, but I want more. It's the same way I was as a player."

Their long-term friendship and shared coaching philosophy make Fraser and Vanney a potentially strong partnership.

"He was very curious about the game and over the years I've seen him develop into an extremely brilliant soccer mind," Fraser said.

"For five or 10 years we've talked about coaching a professional soccer team together and now the opportunity has come about."

Chivas USA's 2011 training camp opens in two weeks. Where will it all end?

"If you're asking me where we're going to finish in the table, I'm unconcerned about that at the moment," Fraser said. "What I am concerned about is that every single day we get better."

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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