Chivas USA entered the 2014 season with a new ownership situation, as Major League Soccer bought the club in February from Jorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes, and attempted to rebuild the team after a dreadful 2013 season, through new coach Wilmer Cabrera. The former US Under-17 head coach and Colorado Rapids assistant coach had his first head coaching gig in MLS, and while the season featured plenty of downs, there managed to be a few good times mixed in as well.
They said it...
MLS Commissioner Don Garber:
"In the coming months, the league will work to find a new ownership group that will establish a new vision and plan for the team, and will be committed to building a new stadium in Los Angeles. We have already had initial discussions with a number of very qualified potential owners and it is our intention to transition the team to a new owner sometime this year."
Head coach Wilmer Cabrera:
“We don’t receive the respect and we don’t receive fair consideration from the refereeing...Every call and every 50-50 call was for the other team."
Goalkeeper Dan Kennedy:
“If we’re going to get in the playoffs, it’s important that we get results here [at home].”
The club used a policy of bringing in MLS experience, international experience on free transfers, and promising young talent in rebuilding the roster. There was considerable turnover, as players like Adolfo "Bofo" Bautista, Mauro Rosales and Luke Moore came and went in the span of several months, while promising new attackers Thomas McNamara and Martin Rivero succumbed to ACL injuries that ended their seasons.
Still, riding the excellent season of Mexican star forward Erick "Cubo" Torres, the Goats had two very good stretches, as they won four straight league games across June and July, and then took three of their final four games in October. They also finished with their best points total (33) since 2011 and finished above last place in the Western Conference for the first time since that season, as well.
Despite the high points, Chivas USA failed to make the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, the second-longest streak in MLS, and had separate winless runs of eight and 12 games in 2014. Given more time, perhaps Cabrera could have fully turned the team around. But with the team ceasing operations after the regular season, we'll never know if a true turnaround was on the horizon.
Best Moment of the Year
Chivas had won two straight games coming out of the World Cup break midseason, and on a Saturday night in Carson, it looked like the budding streak would be snapped as they were in a dull scoreless stalemate against the Montreal Impact. But on that July night, Torres provided the most dramatic on-field moment of the season, as in the 94th minute he got on the end of midfielder Marky Delgado's deflected shot in the box, flipped the ball in the air to himself, and hit a over-the-shoulder acrobatic shot to beat Troy Perkins and give Chivas the 1-0 win.
Eschewing his traditional "robot" celebration, what made the moment even more memorable was that Cubo ran into the stands and celebrated his winner with the Union Ultras supporters' group, while the rest of his teammates mobbed him as he came back down to the field. The drama, the skill, the result, and the way it brought team and fans together made it an indelible moment in Chivas USA's history.
They had a 12-game winless streak that included 11 losses, which certainly wasn't good, but the lowlight of 2014 has to be the announcement that the club would cease to be. After weeks of reports that Chivas USA could go on hiatus for at least two years, the team played their final game on Oct. 26 with uncertainty still hanging over their fate. Both the players and Cabrera's coaching staff rallied in the final month of the season to win three of the team's final four games, but official word came down from the league on Oct. 27, the day after the final win (1-0 home result over the San Jose Earthquakes) that the team would cease operations immediately.
A new team, subsequently announced to be LAFC, was then announced, with the intent of joining the league in the coming years. But when the news broke, Chivas USA fans knew that this was the ultimate worst moment.
There are two contenders, both from Torres, but since his Montreal winner was the most dramatic, let's give the edge in this category to the smooth perfection of his winner against Real Salt Lake on June 28. Left back Tony Lochhead intercepted the ball around the center line, streaked forward, and sent in a terrific early cross from the flank. The ball curled over to Cubo, who took it in stride in the air and hit a cracker with his right foot. It was the kind of sublime volley that comes around once in a great while, and this one was a beauty.
Torres broke Chivas USA's single-season scoring record with 15 goals, and despite playing on a struggling team, played his way onto the senior Mexican national team for the first time. Cubo was also selected to the MLS All-Star team, where he helped set up a goal in the All-Stars' win over Bayern Munich. He had league scoring streaks of four games and six games, respectively, and scored the game-winning goal four times, while contributing 52 percent of Chivas USA's goals for the season. Though he hit the ground running when joining Chivas USA halfway through 2013, Torres truly became a breakout star in MLS in 2014 and was his team's only scoring threat for nearly the entire campaign.
To say there was a lot of turnover would be an understatement, as 23 of 33 players who featured in a league game in 2014 for Chivas USA were new to the team, so there is considerable competition for this honor. In the end, it seems appropriate to give it to defender Donny Toia, a player who was not expected to play a big role, but who converted to a fullback position and made it his own over the course of the season. The former Real Salt Lake Homegrown player still has developing to do, but the 22-year-old essentially revived his career in 2014, helped Chivas in a pinch, and ultimately played the third-most minutes on the team, behind only Dan Kennedy and Torres.
“I get to be the mouthpiece of an incredibly diverse, talented, and smart group of owners. I can tell you, the type of track record and brainpower, experience and intellectual capital they have is astounding. That gives me great confidence that we’re going to be able to build a really terrific club." - LAFC managing partner Henry Nguyen, when the team was officially announced on Oct. 30.
Three Offseason needs
1. Find a stadium site: One major lesson from Chivas USA is that playing in another team's stadium year after year simply doesn't work. LAFC must find a site of their own where they can set down permanent roots in the Los Angeles community, and then get moving on the construction process. Initial talk from the ownership is that they want a flagship stadium, but finalizing a good location is the first priority for the organization and will go a long way to quelling potential criticism of the sustainability of the new club.
2. Build the fanbase now: LAFC got off to a good start with their free sticker promotion on day one, getting fans to sign up as "LAFC Originals" in exchange for receiving an LAFC sticker in the mail. If the team is to begin play in 2017, as initial projections have it, they are going to have to really push the new team in the region on a number of levels. Reaching out to Chivas USA fans, many of whom appear to be receptive to supporting the new team, is an obvious start, but in order to hit the ground running when play begins, LAFC needs to be on the minds of as many Angelenos as possible for the next couple of years. On-field success is clearly a component to having a successful MLS club, but marketing and really listening to fans has to be equally important in making the new club work.
3. Bring aboard a face of the franchise: How did NYCFC gain real credibility in MLS without actually having a team? They hired MLS Cup winner Jason Kreis as their head coach. LAFC have a number of well-known people with a variety of backgrounds in their ownership group, from Mia Hamm to Magic Johnson to Vincent Tan. But when they begin hiring the people who will be doing the day-to-day operations, having a famous, intelligent, and well-respected face can work wonders in building the club before the roster is filled out. LAFC may not find this face of the franchise for some time, but it should certainly be something on their minds.