CD Chivas USA coming together
but to do so with a huge portion of your roster moving here from another country just a matter of weeks before the season begins brings a completely new set of challenges to the table, on and off the field.Add in the pressure of carrying the storied name of Chivas on your jerseys, and this organization is one that will be under the microscope from the first time a ball is kicked.
In a phone interview Wednesday night after his side's 2-0 scrimmage win over the USL San Diego Gauchos, CD Chivas USA head coach Thomas Rongen discussed his new players, the style and system he wants to play and the pressure and craziness of putting together one of the most unique start-up businesses of all time.
The new players
The task of picking the Mexico-based players that would essentially make up the heart of the American club was not just about talent; there were several intangibles as well.
"We needed guys who want to be here, want to be part of MLS; there are many important ingredients," Rongen says. "They need to be a little adventurous in their ways, have to be able to endure some adversity on and off the field."
Rongen is speaking about the fact that the new group is not just eight players, but eight humans with lives and some with families, so there are other factors in making sure the right players are selected. Obviously if a player struggles to adapt off the field, it is going to have a big impact on his on-field performance, and therefore the entire team.
"Choosing the right players really is a challenge. It is quite a challenge to sign them in the first place, then get them comfortable here, and do things like find houses and apartments, with factors like no credit history or social security numbers. It is quite an endeavor."
On the field, the players that were introduced Wednesday definitely give Chivas an identity, and you can start to see what they may look like. Obviously, Ramón Ramírez is the biggest name for most MLS fans, and Rongen expects him to be one of the guys who really shapes the team's culture.
"He is a great passer, a true competitor, and a very smart player who can dictate from deep midfield," Rongen says. "For us he will also be an organizer from a verbal standpoint, so that is important."
As for the other leaders of the team, Rongen expects goalkeeper Martin Zúñiga to also be a big part of the team's makeup. While rookie Brad Guzan has impressed early, Rongen made it clear the starting spot is Zúñiga's to lose.
Overall, while Rongen obviously cannot say how many of the eight will actually be starters, he says he absolutely expects all of them to contribute this season from the outset.
"Are there some question marks with the eight guys? Without a doubt," Rongen notes. "But we were very selective and we think we have brought up a group that gives us a chance to compete and succeed right away. That is why we picked them."
As for what he doesn't have, Rongen points to the fact he still would have liked a replacement for Paco Palencia, who did not end up moving to the U.S. side as long rumored. As for what he may address with future moves, Rongen said he still feels a little "thin" at the back, so "the immediate need would probably be a player or two to shore up the defense." He expects to bring up another Youth International from the Mexican club, so that may be a way to fortify the back line.
Style and system
Since he was hired, anytime anyone asked Rongen about his team's style, of course he immediately talked about attacking and entertaining soccer. Nothing has changed in that regard.
"As I have said from the outset, we want an attacking and dominating type of play, but who doesn't?" he says. "I think the league would welcome it. Not to say there is too much negative play in MLS, but we want to bring a fresh look."
So what exactly does that mean? Rongen says he is not sure what system he will play out of, or if that will even remain a constant, but he said that is not really a concern. He is more intent on instilling an approach of attacking soccer, and says his team can do that from a lot of different looks.
With players like Isaac Romo and Alonso Sandoval, Rongen definitely has picked some guys who can pressure opposing defenses. But if CD Chivas USA does actually commit to and play a very enterprising brand of soccer (Rongen points to teams like Real Madrid who are so accomplished at attacking out of the back), what will happen?
"I think we will go forward with numbers, we will play with some risk," he says. "So we will be vulnerable and need defenders who can play one-v-one. And obviously we will rely on Zúñiga to strongly support us from the back."
While every manager says they want to attack in droves and light up the scoreboard and excite the fans, it remains to be seen if and when that will happen on the field. However, with some fun players to watch going forward and some major questions at the back, you get the feeling that if any team is going to play like that, it just might be CD Chivas USA.
Pressure to win
Putting together this team from nothing and just getting these eight players this week means that CD Chivas USA is going to be a work in progress longer than any other MLS side. Bringing together a new group of players, many of whom have never played together is one thing. Now add in the fact that about half will have never played in MLS. Then mix in these players moving to the United States and adapting to life here on and off the field. Now you can begin to see the daunting task that lies ahead for this club ...and why they will be judged as a work in progress.
"We will be competitive from day one, but over time it will be a lot of adapting," Rongen says. "Getting used to travel, playing in MLS, time zone changes, climate changes, Astroturf, there are a lot of things many of our players are going to be dealing with."
So with the Chivas name on their jerseys and an owner in Jorge Vergara who wants to take MLS by storm, doesn't that create an unrealistic amount of pressure? Of course it does, something of which Rongen is very aware.
"For us to say we are definitely going to win the whole thing this year would just be foolish," Rongen admits. "But we will compete, entertain and excite our fans from the beginning. That said, we won't be impatient, [the owners] understand where we need to go. They appreciate this is a long-term project, this is not a short-term thing."
Tino Palace writes a weekly column for MLSnet.com called "The Clean Sheet", which runs each Thursday on MLSnet. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.