In building up its roster, Club Deportivo Chivas USA discovered the need for experience in the center of defense. Newcomer Douglas Sequeira arrived from Costa Rica but he lacked what could be an integral part of the club's success: Major League Soccer experience.
Enter Ryan Suarez. A former LA Galaxy defensive standout, Suarez joined Chivas USA with barely three weeks before the start of the 2005 season. But in his limited time, Saurez has made mark on the fledgling franchise.
"He's a hard-nosed player who is a good addition to our team," Chivas USA coach Thomas Rongen said. "(He has) true grit, some flamboyancy and a lot of things that will hopefully help us."
Since arriving, Suarez has helped right the defensive wrongs and shortcomings. In the three matches before his arrival, Chivas USA fell to the U.S. national team 7-0, lost to San Jose 3-0 and dropped a 2-0 match to Atlante of Mexico. With Suarez in the lineup, the club beat PDL side Fresno Fuego 6-2, tied Real Salt Lake 2-2, beat Club America of Mexico 1-0 and fell to Osasuna of Spain, 1-0. That's seven fewer goals allowed in one extra game.
But Suarez remains humble, refusing to take credit for straightening up the defense.
"It just took a little bit of experience. It's not me per se that's helped the defense," Suarez said. "Me, Ezra [Hendrickson] and Francisco Gomez sat down with the boys a couple of times now in the locker room for hours just getting together and starting to build chemistry. That's really what it's all about. If the boys can trust you that if they make a mistake you're there to cover them, they feel a little more confident to go and step up."
Suarez figures to start in central defense for Chivas USA alongside Sequeira. After Sequeira arrived, the club scrapped its initial plan of having a three-man backline in favor of more defensive stability. With Sequeira and Suarez manning the center of the defense, Chivas USA will have an experienced backline that should be up for the challenge of stopping oncoming attackers.
"They bring more experience in the back," left back Orlando Perez said. "Bringing him in filled the gap with the guys that got injured. Since he's been here, he's been doing a great job."
Along with Hendrickson, the backline features three MLS veterans and another in Sequeira who is a defensive standout on a strong Costa Rican side.
"The guys back there that we have, with Douglas coming from the national team and bringing in his international experience, I think we're going to be real solid back there," Perez said.
A year ago, Suarez played an instrumental role in the Galaxy's defense. Suarez logged the second-most minutes for a club that reached the Western Conference Final. In the offseason, however, his standing with the Galaxy took a hit. Suarez trained in England but could not latch onto a club.
His decision to seek employment in England effectively ended his chances of staying with the Galaxy.
"For many reasons, players being out of contract wanting to get their shot overseas forced my hand quite a bit to look for replacements and people who could play those roles," Galaxy Coach Steve Sampson said. "It wasn't my choice to have Ryan go overseas or have Danny Califf go overseas. When they make that statement, it was very clear to me that they were looking elsewhere so I had to protect myself and this team."
"That's the risk we took," Suarez said. "Califf going to Norway, me going to England ... It's unfortunate that it's our dream and it's what we want to do. It's been said to me before, 'If you want to go to another company and try to get a job and they don't accept you and you come back to us, we're not going to give you as much love.'"
The Galaxy loaded up on defenders this offseason. On March 12, Suarez's time with the Galaxy officially ended after he was traded for a conditional 2006 SuperDraft pick.
"It's a shame that Sampson cleaned up house. It really is," Suarez said. "They had some quality players. I feel for Califf [who was recently traded to San Jose]. I feel sorry for him. He has a one-year-old baby, he has his wife, he's from L.A. [actually, Orange, Calif.] and now has to move to San Jose."
Still, not all of his Galaxy memories are bad. Suarez spoke fondly of the organization's fans.
"I'd actually like to thank the Riot Squad," Suarez said about the Galaxy fan club. "They gave me the MVP last year. I love their fans. I truly do think the Galaxy have the No. 1 fans in this league. I haven't seen our fans yet so I can't say we have the No. 1 fans. I think we'll have the most passionate and entertaining fans, but the Galaxy [fans] were loyal. They took care of me. I still have this massive keg trophy that they give out to their MVP sitting on top of my fireplace so I need to give it back to them. I'm going to miss them."
At Chivas USA training sessions, Suarez is easily one of the most vocal players. Although his style may appear to be brash, Suarez offers no apologies for his in-your-face style.
"I don't mind stepping on some toes," he said. "I'm not here to make best friends. I'm here to make my players more competitive and better in their roles, better as futbol players."
Ultimately, the goal with Chivas USA is the same as it was with the Galaxy: win an MLS championship.
"I'm not here to collect a paycheck," Suarez said. "I want to win something to put on this hand. My hands are vacant right now. They need to have some silverware on them."
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.