A year ago, one of Chivas USA's most prized possessions joined the team too late to make an impact. This year, however, he will be a difference-maker from Day One.
Francisco Palencia will return to Chivas USA and is expected along with the rest of the team when the club returns to work in late January, the club announced Friday. The 32-year-old said he spurned offers from Mexican clubs to remain in Major League Soccer.
"The reality is I am here, I have a contract and I am very happy with that. I decided to stay here," Palencia said. "I had a lot of offers from Mexican teams who wanted me to go back and play for them but I don't want to play over there any more. I want to play in MLS and I'm very happy with that."
In 2005, Palencia scored three goals in nine games. He did not play for the club until Aug. 21 when Chivas USA's season was all but over. Club officials said they were eager to have Palencia around for a full campaign.
"The idea is to have a team playing together from the first day. It's important to have the full team together from the beginning. That's what we're trying to do this year," Chivas USA president and co-owner Antonio Cué said.
A two-time World Cup veteran, Palencia was one of two players who originally joined Chivas USA in November 2004. However, Palencia remained with Chivas de Guadalajara throughout the Clausura 2005 season and did not come stateside until the summer months. His transfer went through once the transfer window opened in August and he was a fixture in the lineup afterward.
Chivas USA coach Bob Bradley what he admired most about Palencia was his mentality.
"He is a winner and he is a fighter," Bradley said. "I had great respect for the way he played when he joined the team last year. That is a great starting point. Peter Nowak was a winner and a fighter and when you have that mentality from your best players it sets the tone."
Bradley, who coached Nowak with the Chicago Fire, said that Palencia, along with Ramon Ramirez and Juan Pablo Garcia, made a good impression during the short time they spent together in December.
"I enjoyed working with them for a few weeks when I first arrived," Bradley said. "They are all excited about the challenge of making Chivas USA a good team. Their commitment to making this effort was really important."
In their inaugural season, Chivas USA suffered through one of the worst campaigns in MLS history. The club's 4-22-6 mark was good for dead last as the Red-and-White never really threatened for a playoff spot. But Palencia said he saw enough from his time with the team to think the club could be a contender sooner rather than later.
"We have an important project ahead of us. All of us want to make Chivas USA a winning team and the first part is made possible because of Bob. In training sessions, he's already instilled a winning mentality," Palencia said.
Palencia said he and his family came to this decision while on vacation.
"We live in a really great city. I am on a good team. We are like a family here. I'm very happy to be here. There was an opportunity to go back to Chivas Mexico but we are very happy with Chivas USA and Antonio. MLS is a good challenge for us and we want to make this a winning team."
But Palencia said the team is more than just one player. The responsibility to turn the team's fortunes around is great but falls on everyone's shoulders.
"It's the whole team. All the guys, the coach, we are all like a family, a big, big family. It's not just one or two or three players. It's all of us together. We are in the same situation: to make this a winning team," Palencia said. "The most important thing is that we have a lot of people who want to play, who want to win."
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.