Chivas USA won't abandon identity

CARSON, Calif. - From day one, Club Deportivo Chivas USA has stood out. From its unique heritage and familiar stripes to promises of wins and big-name players, the club quickly formed an identity of its own.

And despite suffering through the first part of its initial campaign, the club refuses to change the one thing that might be holding it back.

Through 12 matches, Chivas USA have a league-worst five points and have given up a startling 29 goals - 12 more than their closest rival. The club had hoped to translate its attack-first mentality into early success, but it has not worked out that way.

Still, don't expect any drastic philosophical makeovers anytime soon.

"We don't want to play like everybody (else)," Chivas USA coach Hans Westerhof said. "We have our way of thinking about our game, about training and about playing our game. I know this was not good enough last week but we (are) working hard to make things better."

Westerhof took over a moribund Chivas de Guadalajara club in 2003 and turned the club's fortunes around. It was Westerhof who instilled the same attacking philosophy and style that Chivas USA uses into the Mexican club. Eventually, Chivas reached the final under Westerhof before bowing out to champions Pumas in the Clausura 2004 season.

This time around, Westerhof said Chivas USA needs more time for the club to gel under the philosophy. Many of the players have not ever played in such an attacking-minded system and it has taken time for them to adjust.

"Obviously Hans is from a different philosophy where you just keep on pounding away and you go for the win," defender Ryan Suarez said. "That didn't happen but we're under the belief that Hans knows what he's doing and we have to follow him."

In Westerhof's first game as Chivas USA coach, the club encountered a situation in which perhaps a more defensive-minded coach would have gone for a draw.

"We've grown up thinking when you're up 2-1 at halftime on the road and your forwards really haven't been winning too many balls in the air ... you take one of your forwards out and you bring either a defender or a defensive midfielder to help shore up the midfield and if we can leave Chicago with a 2-2 tie, then we'd be happy," Suarez said.

Instead, Chicago surprised Chivas USA with four second-half goals en route to a 5-2 victory.

Still, the Chivas players said they are professionals and will conform to the style the coaches choose.

"At the end of the day, we're players and we don't make a decision on how we play," defender Ezra Hendrickson said. "The coach has a way he wants us to play and that's how we're going to play. If he says we're going to continue to attack, then that's how we have to keep playing because if you're not doing what the coach wants you to do on the field, then you're going to be sitting next to him on the bench."

Although the attack-at-all-costs philosophy has not yielded much success, Westerhof said he is confident the club can turn the season around. There are some positives from which to build on, he said.

"Most of the time in the first half, we play at least at the same level as the opponent. Then afterward we get some problems," Westerhof said. "The most important thing for us is that we raise the physical level and that we raise the circulation of the ball. When we fight for the ball and we get the ball, we lose it. We lose it very quickly. We need a little bit more (possession). That's what we're working on and going to be working on in the next coming weeks."

Hendrickson said the most important thing is how the club looks when they have the ball, and there has been something the club is lacking.

"We've got to work on our ball possession, ball circulation, moving the ball and creating more offensively because we're not doing that right now," Hendrickson said. "Teams are just coming at us with counter after counter after counter. We held up for a half on Saturday but we eventually broke. That's what's going to happen if we don't change the way we're playing as far as protecting the ball and execution."

Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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