KISSIMMEE, Fla. – James Riley was content in Southern California, happy to be a member of Chivas USA even while many of his teammates were unceremoniously being shown the door.
Riley signed a new lease. His girlfriend took a job. He was laying down roots with the expectation, reinforced by a handshake deal with head coach José Luis Sánchez Solá, that he wouldn’t be another one of the casualties.
Then, as quickly as Chivas USA had professed their desire to make him a integral part of their squad, Riley was packing up his belongings, shipped to D.C. United on Wednesday for a second-round draft pick in the 2015 Supplemental Draft.
To say Riley was surprised is an understatement – “It honestly could be a book, what happened,” he says – after a turn of events that might astonish even those who’ve paid close attention to the roster purge that has accompanied the club’s identity shift to better align itself with the mothership in Guadalajara and the makeup of its fan base in SoCal.
“I had a meeting with [Sánchez Solá] and he said he wanted to keep me, how I was in his starting XI, a core member of the team as obviously I’d played a lot of games in this league,” Riley told MLSsoccer.com following his first appearance for D.C. United at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic on Saturday. “So I said, ‘If you want me here, I’ll be here. Fantastic.’
“We shook hands on it. We also discussed a new contract just to kind of secure things because it was a pretty volatile situation. Guys were in and out. So he went and spoke to the president for me and confirmed it was going to be a new deal. No problems within the league … Then it changed over 48 hours.”
As of time of publication, Chivas USA had not responded to an MLSsoccer.com request for comment. But Sánchez Solá, on Saturday night declared via Twitter that "I don't know what Riley said. I dedicate myself to coaching. I have nothing to do with contracts."
@blackarmy1850 no se de que me hablas ni tampoco q dijo Riley. Yo me dedico a entrenar. En contratos no tengo nada q ver— José Luis Sanchez (@Elchelis) February 17, 2013
But Riley doesn’t seem bitter. Not even in the least, emphasizing that he wished the Goats and their fans only the best.
However, he was forthcoming about the manner in which Chivas USA’s roster upheaval has affected the locker room. Riley is simply the latest player to find himself on the way out after Ben Zemanski was traded to Portland the same day, Casey Townsend was also shipped to D.C. and Shalrie Joseph was told he’s surplus to requirements.
“I think until guys kind of feel secure contractually, to be honest, they’re always going to have one foot in, one foot out,” Riley said. “At the same time, until management goes both feet in, it’s kind of hard for players to go both feet in as well. Without a doubt, we spoke about it every day – who is going to be the next to go? Zemanski and I were one and two there in 24 hours, back-to-back. Obviously, guys have their head on a swivel. That’s professional sports. It happens.”
United certainly won’t complain, as they’ve added a veteran right back with 192 MLS starts to provide competition for Chris Korb and Daniel Woolard following Andy Najar’s move to Anderlecht.
Riley, meanwhile, said he’s ready to dive right in and force DC manager Ben Olsen to make a tough decision come March 2.
“Obviously, [Chivas USA] were trying to do something different. The coach brought in some good energy,” Riley said. “It was interesting. It was fun to be there. It was good. But if you’re not in the plans, you want to be somewhere where you are wanted. It changed, and fortunately D.C. was there ready.”