Although Chivas USA has some ardent fans, there is not enough to fill up Home… (Victor Decolongon / Getty…)
It's probably not a good sign when a team, on the eve of its opening game, decides it would rather cover seats with a tarpaulin than try to fill them with fans.
But in the case of Chivas USA, it could be a sign of compassion because, after two years in which it lost more games than any team in its conference, Chivas USA figures to be difficult to watch again this season. In the opener Sunday at the Home Depot Center, Chivas USA will face both the Houston Dynamo and gargantuan banners that will blot out a third of the stadium's 27,000 seats.
Ticket sales, suffice it to say, are lagging.
And you can blame part of that on a preseason the team ended by going winless in its final four games, the last one a 5-0 pasting by the San Jose Earthquakes that Robin Fraser called "embarrassing."
And he's the coach.
"Anytime you lose by a margin like that you should be embarrassed," Fraser explained Friday. "As a competitive person and a competitive athlete you cannot be satisfied with something like that. We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror and say what can each of us do better, starting with me as a coach."
Yet leave it to the upbeat Fraser to find something positive.
"The bright point certainly is that the season had not started yet," he said.
He won't be able to use that as an excuse Sunday when his team meets Houston, an MLS Cup finalist and one of three playoff teams Chivas meets in its first four games.
That's placed added pressure on a team General Manager Jose Domene says must show improvement after two seasons in which it has finished eighth in the Western Conference, winning just eight games each year.
"We have to turn the corner," he said. "And we need to make the playoffs. I feel better than last year, that's for sure. I feel optimistic because I feel we've made a lot of changes."
They certainly have. Only four players remain from 2009, the last time Chivas made the playoffs. And just six were on the team before Domene and Fraser joined the organization shortly ahead of last season.
The massive turnover, Domene says, is part of a plan that will eventually make the team more like its sister organization in Guadalajara, which has relied on a strong youth program to win 11 titles in Mexico's First Division.
"This is a project," he said. "It's something that takes time. [But] the youth academy model works.
"We're not trying to trick the system. We're just mimicking and adapting to our times."
For now, expect those times to be hard. The team's top threat on offense is 36-year-old Colombia forward Juan Pablo Angel, who is coming off a season in which he scored a career-low 10 goals while splitting time between the Galaxy and Chivas USA.
Clearly, Angel and his teammates — who were shut out five times in 11 preseason games — will need to do better than that to help out the beleaguered Dan Kennedy, who faced more shots than all but four MLS goalkeepers last year.
Still optimism is high — even if ticket sales are low — in the Chivas front office
"I'm sure we'll be much better than last year," team president Antonio Cue said. "I would not be happy if we were not way ahead of eight [wins]. The playoffs for sure."
If they make it that far, maybe they'll take the tarp off the seats.