Cold and hot. Night and day. Nome, Alaska and Cancun, Mexico. Chivas USA 2005 and Chivas USA 2006.
There are opposites ... and then there are things that could not be more different than each other.
In 2005, Chivas USA was a collection of washouts, wide-eyed youngsters and a scant few experienced veterans. The club lost 22 games and never threatened for a playoff spot. In 2006, Chivas USA was a team to be reckoned with, a side that won 10 games, tied 13 others and was in contention from the first minute of the first game.
Just two years into its existence, Chivas USA has blossomed into a respected and strong side capable of making a run at a league title and competing with any club on any day. Chivas reached the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2006 for the first time in club history and won their first-ever playoff game with a 2-1 win against eventual champion Houston on Oct. 22.
Yet the year will be remembered not for the progress Chivas made, but rather for the room for improvement that still exists within the organization.
"We feel good about the progress. We don't feel good about the ending," Chivas USA coach Bob Bradley said.
Despite the playoff appearance, Bradley said he and his players felt the club could have gone farther than the first round of the playoffs. Chivas, though, failed to hold onto their one-goal lead heading to Houston and were ousted when Brian Ching scored a stoppage-time goal to give Dynamo the series 3-2 on aggregate.
"There is no one that is satisfied that we made the playoffs and had a good series but got knocked out," Bradley said.
Perhaps it's a sign that the organization will not settle for anything but championships. Maybe it is a desire never to take a step back to the losing ways of Year One. Whatever the reason, Chivas have a strong mentality that will only grow stronger next year.
Even with an overhauled roster and a new coach, Chivas nearly went from a team that faced large obstacles in the preseason to one that was a half-hour away from reaching the conference final. But the season-ending loss to Houston will remain with Chivas for a while.
"With the work that went into it, we all felt that at the end of the year we were capable of winning the championship," Bradley said. "We felt that the mentality at the end, everybody was going in the same direction. When your season ends in a way that suddenly, that takes a little while to accept and deal with."
Nevertheless, the transformation the club went through was drastic. To go from a four-win club to a title contender in less than one year was a large step forward. The process of building the team fell on Bradley's shoulders and for his efforts he was named MLS Coach of the Year.
However, Bradley seemed nonplussed about the award.
"Everyone in this organization has worked hard to improve after the first year. The award sort of is indicative of the work of all those people and in particular the coaching staff," Bradley said, pointing to assistant coaches Zak Abdel, Martin Vasquez and Preki as key members of that team. "For me, obviously it's hard to say more."
In the first year, Chivas' leading scorer had four goals. Bradley quickly addressed that in the offseason. He brought in his former scoring ace Ante Razov to pair with Francisco Palencia, who spurned offers from Mexican clubs to return to Chivas and to play for Bradley.
In the SuperDraft, Bradley took Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan. Trades also landed Jesse Marsch and Jason Hernandez. Bradley also took a shot on Claudio Suarez as well as Carlos Llamosa -- aging, injury-riddled defenders. Returning players Brad Guzan, Juan Pablo Garcia and Francisco Mendoza were also in the mix.
Bradley and his staff helped forge a strong team from the various talent, skill and experience levels. At first, the goal was simple: Bradley wanted to improve on the first year.
"We were all committed to that from the beginning," he said. "That included the building of a better roster that included some balance between some players who had MLS experience, some veterans, some talented young guys, creating a better environment every day, working hard so that there was a good understanding of how to play in the better games and how to compete better as a team. We all felt that as we started to make some steps that we had the makings of a good team."
It did not take long for Chivas to pile up some notable firsts. On April 2, the season's opening day, Chivas had their first multiple-goal shutout win when Chivas beat Real Salt Lake 3-0. After a 1-0 win against Chicago on May 27, Chivas beat Colorado 4-1 a week later and had their first-ever winning streak. On June 8, Chivas beat the hated Galaxy for the first time in a 2-1 win.
Then came the first playoff berth and the club's first playoff win. The final first, however, was unwanted as Chivas were eliminated from the postseason following their first playoff loss.
Still, the 2-0 setback in Houston on Oct. 29 will only serve as a motivation for 2007.
"As a group, we're committed to putting everything we have to continue to improve and give our fans a championship," Bradley said. "This was a year where we made some steps but we still have work to do."
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.