Chivas USA looks to change strategy to improve next season. (Brandon Wade / Getty Images )
In his first public comments since taking control of Chivas USA in late August, owner Jorge Vergara said Tuesday he is returning the struggling Major League Soccer franchise to its founding principles by reemphasizing the team's Mexican roots and reestablishing its ties to Vergara's Mexican league team, Chivas de Guadalajara.
"This is the return of the prodigal son," Vergara said during a Beverly Hills news conference conducted primarily in Spanish. "From the start the plan was to make Chivas USA the son of Chivas de Guadalajara. Along the way it got away from that, and the clubs suffered a divorce in philosophy and structure.
"We are going to re-create Chivas USA as an extension of Chivas."
When the franchise was established in 2004, Vergara was one of four owners who believed the team's association with his hugely popular Mexican club would help it succeed — on the field and at the box office — in Southern California. And it worked for a time, with Francisco "Paco" Palencia, Claudio Suarez and Ramon Ramirez — all former Guadalajara players — helping the team reach the playoffs in four of its first five seasons.
Chivas USA then veered off course, losing a conference-worst 50 games since 2010 and playing last season without a Mexican-born player for the first time in its short history.
"They tried to imitate the MLS style, which is more physical," Vergara said of the team. "They forgot to use the technical advantage and the speed of the Mexican and the Hispanic players. We didn't play like the U.S.; we didn't play like the Mexicans. We didn't play like nothing."
So Vergara is taking the team back to the start. After buying out former partners Antonio and Lorenzo Cue, he cleaned out the front office and fired coach Robin Fraser and much of his staff. He also named Jose Luis Real, director of the development program for Chivas de Guadalajara, to oversee soccer operations for the MLS club.
Vergara said he expects to name a new coach in the next 10 days and will immediately reopen talks with USC over a proposed soccer-specific stadium to be built in Exposition Park. Chivas USA has shared the Home Depot Center with the Galaxy since its inception, but the team and the league believe the franchise needs its own home, one Vergara hopes will be ready for the 2015 season.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who helped broker the buyout of the Cue brothers, says he believes Vergara's approach will work.
"The whole idea when this club was launched was to try to have a club that would be specifically targeting the massive Hispanic population in this country, but more specifically in Southern California," he said. "The execution wasn't right and you've got to be smart enough and brave enough to admit when you don't get things right.
"I believe in what this opportunity can be, and I'm not going to quit until we get it right."