LOS ANGELES – Moments before Tuesday’s Chivas USA press conference at the swanky SLS Hotel, club owner Jorge Vergara asked a general question to the gathered media and observers.
“Who doesn’t speak Spanish?”
Vergara quickly followed it up with a response: “It’s time to learn.”
The Mexican businessman then spoke to the Southern California media for the first time since taking full ownership of Chivas USA in late August. In Spanish first, followed by English, Vergara explained briefly why he took control of the club, his hopes for the future and just what that future may look like.
His vision for the club is similar to the one he'd hoped for when the club was founded in 2004 – one that followed the tradition of Vergara’s more well-known entity, Chivas de Guadalajara – and that vision remains strong in 2012.
“It’s like being born again,” Vergara said. “In these years, this project got derailed. Angélica [Fuentes, Vergara's wife and busines partner] and I made the decision to buy out the Cue brothers for this reason. We wanted to make this dream come true several years ago but it didn’t happen. Now, we propose to achieve this dream.”
Alongside Fuentes, Vergara said the business of rebuilding Chivas USA and making it a successful club on and off the field is on the front burner, and in order for that to happen the club must make the most of its resources.
Perhaps the biggest resource Chivas USA have always had is the relationship with Chivas de Guadalajara, and that is where Vergara said the biggest mistake was made.
“[There was] a divorce from Chivas Mexico, not because of personal problems but that’s just how it happened,” Vergara said. “We want to convert Chivas USA into the prodigal son that now returns to Chivas Mexico, to take advantage of the 106 years of experience of Chivas Mexico.”
The relationship between Chivas USA and Chivas de Guadalajara will clearly be stronger under the Vergara regime. Already the two entities are sharing resources as José Luis “El Güero” Real has been named supervisor of soccer operations while continuing to serve in a front-office role with Guadalajara. Dutch legend Johan Cruyff has served as an advisor to Vergara and helped the club hire John van ‘t Schip as head coach in Mexico.
The same process is already underway with Chivas USA. Vergara did not immediately name a successor to Robin Fraser, who along with several members of his staff was fired on Friday, but said the naming of a coach will come down in the next seven to 10 days and will involve further discussions between himself and Cruyff. He did say, however, that the short list of candidates featured coaches from Mexico, Argentina and the Netherlands.
Despite letting Fraser and his staff go, Vergara was not preoccupied with assigning blame for Chivas USA's current predicament.
“We know there were mistakes, many mistakes, but my philosophy is not who caused them but what the cause was and to resolve them,” he said.
Perhaps one issue at the onset was relying on a belief that Chivas USA needed to look like Chivas de Guadalajara, who have a tradition of fielding only Mexican players. In 2005, Chivas USA fielded many Mexican-born players, only for the team to find itself mired at the bottom of the table.
A return to the Mexican-only philosophy is not in the cards, though, as the club is more interested in being a part of their local community.
“We will be an extension of Chivas Mexico and a representative of the multicultural environment that already exists here in the US,” Vergara said.
Ultimately, there is a lot of work to be done with the club, a team that won just 23 games in the last three seasons and one whose fan base is dwindling by the year. But Vergara is nevertheless excited.
“This is an enormous challenge that we take on with a lot of passion and desire to succeed,” Vergara said. “There was a reason why we invested the money we did into this, because we are confident we will come out ahead.”
Luis Bueno covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.