Supporting a winning team is easy. But supporting a struggling team is addicting.
So says Julio Ramos, a.k.a. "El Chiva Mayor," a representative of one of Chivas USA’s largest fan groups, the Union Ultras. He’s certainly well-versed on the subject, with Rojiblancos fans now going on four years of losing soccer, not to mention well-documented off-the-field turmoil. But through it all, Ramos and his friends in the stands keep the faith.
“To support a winning team, it’s the easiest thing in the world,” Ramos explains. “To support a team that struggles … "
His voice trials off. Then he starts again.
"Iif they ever win a championship in our lifetimes, it’s like nothing else. Why? Because I have struggled with them since Day 1. And that’s kind of addictive, you know?”
Sure. It is. Just ask Boston Red Sox fans. Or Chicago Blackhawks fans. Or Manchester City supporters.
Of course, Chivas USA are a special case. And it's because the team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009. After all, Toronto FC have never made the playoffs since joining the league in 2007.
The struggle Chivas USA the recent press surrounding the team has focused on off-the-field issues, such as the hiring and firing of new coaches, the drastic turnover of the roster, and questions about the organization's . Owners Jorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes say they’ve implemented a plan to make the club successful on and off the field, but it hasn't yet come to fruition.
And some diehard supporters aren't convinced it's all going to work out.
John Sandate, commonly known as "ELAC," short for East LA Chiva, is a representative of the other major Chivas USA supporters group, the Black Army 1850. He and his group have taken a skeptical view of the recent goings-on at the club, even to the point of protest.
“We wear black and white because being a Chivas USA fan, it’s black and white,” Sandate tells MLSsoccer.com. “You’re either all Chivas USA or you’re not."
Their with-us-or-against-us attitude extends beyond a color scheme. It includes a rejection of one of the underlying realities of Chivas USA's existence: Its formal connection to Chivas de Guadalajara, the Mexican powerhouse, which is also owned by Chivas USA owner Jorge Vergara.
"We don’t use the brand," Sandate says. "Our team is Chivas USA, but we’re not Guadalajara fans. We’re a little bit more ‘punk rock,’ we’re a little bit more anti-establishment in that we want to make this team grow, we want to make this team better, we want to make this market better.”
As fans of a struggling team, they’ve taken a more proactive stance towards their team’s struggles, looking further than just the team’s on-field performances (26-60-28 since their last playoff berth, in 2009), to the higher rungs of the organization’s ladder for hope in improving the team’s fortunes.
“You can’t say, ‘Oh, we’re going to get one star player and then we’re going to get new uniforms next year,’ that’s not enough to get people fired up,” Sandate says. “You have to galvanize this fan base. There’s a market of people that are anti-Galaxy. There’s a market of people that are Euro-snobs. There’s a market of people that are hardcore world soccer fans in Los Angeles.
“This market of LA is very different from any MLS market. I think that’s why we have a second MLS club before New York. I think Chivas USA has said, ‘Hey, we have all these Mexicans living in LA, they’ll just all come to see Chivas.’ I’m like, ‘No, dude, it’s not that easy.’ A team would be great that’s winning and all that, but it’s still going to take a little bit.”
So why support a team that has had more than its fair share of struggles on and off the field, especially with the two-time defending champions, the LA Galaxy, right next door or even the Xolos of Tijuana, who recently won a Liga MX title, two hours south?
Simply put, because, in the Chivas USA supporters' eyes, those two highly successful clubs don't represent true Angelenos. Despite all their struggles, the Goats' supporters feel that their club embodies their city. Or could.
“Chivas de Guadalajara represents el pueblo, the people, and it’s the most popular team in Mexico,” says Ramos, whose father worked for CD Guadalajara for 20 years and whose uncle played for the team. “Chivas USA wants to do the same thing over here. They’ve made many mistakes, but at the end of the day, that’s what they want to do, make a team that represents the people of Los Angeles.”
And even with the obvious identification with Chivas de Guadalajara, Ramos claims the idea of having a team for the people of Los Angeles supersedes any club allegiances fans might have from Mexico or other countries. Ramos claims he counts fans of club sides such as “América, Atlante, Pumas, Cruz Azul, Celtic, you name it,” among the Union Ultras.
They come from all walks of life in the diverse LA market and have supported different teams before Chivas USA. But now they’ve found common cause, and despite the struggles -- or perhaps because of the struggles -- they're not going away.
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