CARSON, Calif. - When Colombia surprised Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals, it appeared to have been a blessing for Chivas USA. Instead, the blessing dried up quicker than El Tri's Gold Cup effort.
Mexico youngster Juan Pablo Garcia returned to Chivas USA this week earlier than expected with hopes of making his debut for the Red-and-White in tonight's game against the New England Revolution. Instead, the Mexican soccer federation (FMF) has dashed those hopes.
Despite signing a deal with Chivas USA a day after his contract with Atlas finished, the federation has prolonged Garcia's absence from Major League Soccer. The FMF has withheld Garcia's international pass for three weeks.
Per international rules, the FMF is not obligated to release a player's international pass until 30 days after a contract was signed. International transfer rules under the transfer window trump such a rule, but the window will not open until nearly six weeks after Garcia signed his contract with Chivas USA.
And with the way Garcia exited Mexican soccer, it appears the FMF is not in a hurry to facilitate "El Loquito" or his new club.
"They didn't answer," Chivas USA coach Hans Westerhof said when asked what the federation's reason for not releasing Garcia's international pass. "It was frustrating when we had Juan Pablo here and we thought he could play (today) and they said at the last minute 'No, that's not possible.' That's frustrating."
When his contract with Atlas expired June 30, Garcia had already decided to sign with Chivas USA instead of re-signing with Atlas. The Guadalajara club had reportedly worked out a transfer with Club America that would have sent Garcia to San Luis via a transfer to America and a loan to the recently-promoted San Luis side. The reported transfer fee from Atlas to America would have been around US$2 million.
Though Garcia was not obligated to sign a new deal with Atlas, the Mexican league has long had an unwritten rule, or a so-called gentlemen's agreement, in which players typically would follow the club's wishes and re-sign no matter the circumstances.
But Garcia insists he did not deceive anybody nor break any rules.
"I (did) not (act) in bad faith," Garcia said upon joining Chivas USA. "In my last club they think I (broke) a pact that exists among the owners because no player had done what I did, deciding my own destiny. I hope that other players in Mexico can open their eyes and realize that they control their future."
Garcia said this week that he would like to play tonight and would be ready to play had the situation been clarified. Instead, he likely will not play until at least Aug. 10 against the Galaxy, possibly Aug. 3 in the U.S. Open Cup match against the Galaxy or maybe not until Aug. 21, the first game after the transfer window opens.
So what forced the federation to withhold Garcia's pass? FMF President Alberto De La Torre held the same position with Atlas before and has discussed his annoyance with the situation through the media since Garcia signed his new deal.
Also, Westerhof said he thought it had to do with what he called Atlas' perceived thoughts regarding two players which he said the club feels he took from them.
"I'm not a friend of Atlas," Westerhof said.
In January, a countryman from Westerhof's native Holland made a call to Mexico.
"Guus Hiddink, who (was) the coach of PSV Eindhoven, phoned me and said he was looking for a center (forward) to play in the Champions League. He wanted to know my opinion about Robert (De Pinho), the center striker of Atlas," Westerhof said. "He said 'I need a central striker who can play more in a counterattack.' I told him that I think they're getting a good one because (De Pinho) is strong, he's got a good header and I think in the system that (Hiddink) plays he can be one of the best players.
"So they took him and everyone with Atlas thought that I recommended him but that was not true. I did not recommend a player from Atlas. They asked for my opinion and I gave them that."
De Pinho, who led the Mexican Primera Division in goals in the calendar year of 2004, walked away from Atlas due to a clause in his contract. The Brazilian joined PSV Eindhoven and helped the club reach the semifinals of the Champions League. PSV, however, paid a transfer fee to Atlas, which was reported to be about US$6 million.
Given the circumstances, Westerhof said it would be best for him to stay away from the rojinegros.
"It's not a good idea that I go negotiate with Atlas because I'm not their friend. In their opinion, I took two players from them," he said.
In the end, though, the De Pinho situation was a bit self-imposed, Westerhof said.
"It's their fault," he said. "How is it possible that a player has a clause in his contract that he can leave anytime he wants? In MLS that's possible but that's different. No club has a clause that lets a player go anytime he wants. That's their problem, not my problem."
Aside from Garcia, other reinforcements have started to trickle in. Defender/midfielder Hector "Pirata" Castro and Sergio Garcia "Matute" have been training all week with Chivas USA; Francisco Palencia will reportedly train with the club sometime after the players return from the All-Star break.
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.