Chivas de Guadalajara and Chivas USA owner Jose Vergara has retooled the… (Jamie Rector / For the Times )
The precept was simple enough: buy soccer teams on both sides of the border, give them the same name and similar uniforms, and manage them with the same philosophy, creating a synergy that would benefit both clubs.
But it hasn't worked out that way for Mexican businessman Jorge Vergara, owner of Chivas de Guadalajara of the Mexico League and a co-founder of Major League Soccer's Chivas USA. So with his U.S. team stumbling toward its third consecutive losing season last summer, Vergara and his wife bought out their partners and decided to start over.
"This is the return of the prodigal son," Vergara promised last fall. "From its inauguration, 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."
The first test in reconciliation comes Saturday night when Chivas USA opens the MLS season at the Home Depot Center against the Columbus Crew.
Chivas USA ended last season by going winless in its final 14 matches, a franchise record. Vergara responded by cleaning house over the last four months, sacking the entire front office and much of the coaching staff. He also remade the roster, ridding the team of 14 players and bringing in 11 new ones who have never played in MLS.
New Chivas Manager Jose Luis Sanchez Sola says the moves were made for soccer reasons and not based on ethnicity. But just one of the 14 players cut loose has Mexican nationality while 10 of the additions are either Mexican-born or have Mexican parents, making them eligible to compete for both Chivas USA and Chivas de Guadalajara, which has never used a non-Mexican player in its 107 years.
That gives Vergara flexibility to move players freely between the clubs, something he took advantage of over the last 10 days by sending four Guadalajara players — midfielder Edgar Mejia, defenders Joaquin Velazquez and Mario de Luna and 19-year-old striker Giovani Casillas, who scored twice in the final game of Chivas USA's unbeaten preseason — north in search of more consistent playing time.
Last year Chivas USA had just two players with Mexican ties, forward Cesar Romero and Anaheim-born midfielder Jorge Villafana.
"That's part of the objective of the club's owner, to obtain players that can do both," said Sanchez Sola, a veteran Mexico league coach who will be on an MLS sideline for the first time Saturday. "Now we are all Chivas."
Vergara has also given Sanchez Sola the task of bringing a Mexican style of play to Chivas USA, one that mixes the ballhandling skills and flamboyance of the South American game with a bit of the physicality and patience of the North American one.
"The original idea of Chivas USA, we're going to achieve that," Vergara said.