MLSsoccer.com looks back at the stars, personalities and cult heroes who made Major League Soccer what it is today. Our fourth annual “What Ever Happened To..." series rolls on with Mexican national team legend and former Chivas USA captain Claudio Suárez. (Check out more from the series here.)
Where He Was Then
It’s often forgotten now, but there was a period when Chivas USA were consistently one of the best teams in MLS. And landing the most-capped player in Mexican national team history in 2006 was a key factor in ushering in a Golden Age for the Goats.
“El Emperador” moved to MLS after 18 years in the Mexican first division, where he starred for Pumas UNAM, Chivas Guadalajara and Tigres UANL. And he immediately plugged a leaky Chivas USA backline that allowed an alarming 67 goals in the club’s 2005 expansion season.
With Suárez (right) as captain, Chivas USA finished the 2007 season in first place in the Western Conference and allowed 28 goals, the second-best mark in MLS that year.
With Suárez at center back, the Goats became one of the best defensive teams in the league and – complemented by a core of Jesse Marsch, Sacha Kljestan, Brad Guzan, Jonathan Bornstein and Ante Razov – made the playoffs in each of his four seasons in Los Angeles.
After outlasting even his own expectations by two seasons, Suárez finally hung up his cleats in 2009, just shy of his 41st birthday.
“I think I fulfilled what [MLS] expected of me,” he tells MLSsoccer.com.
Chivas USA fans wholeheartedly agree.
Where He Is Now
Now 45, Suárez hasn’t gone far since his career ended, settling his family about 20 miles from StubHub Center in the tony seaside suburb of Ranchos Palos Verde. And this week’s news that the Chivas USA experiment will officially end hit him hard – he still follows the Goats and had been an advisor to the club as recently as 2011.
“I’ve always thought that the formula was there," he laments. "With the arrival of important players – primarily Mexicans – and a base of American players. The results were there.
“It’s sad because I was in that team and it’s practically disappearing. I think a lot had to do with the results on the field – people lost interest and the owners, the people in Guadalajara, saw it necessary to sell it. I hope the new team contributes [to soccer] here in Los Angeles.”
The former team captain says he had actually been in preliminary talks with Chivas USA to take over as head coach before Jorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes became sole owners of the club in August of 2012, and those discussions dried up.
Instead, Suárez joined forces with his old friend and former El Tri teammate Jorge Campos – who also still resides in Southern California – on a couple of soccer-related projects.
"He was the one of the most professional players I’ve ever played with. He’d show up every day, work extremely hard and wouldn’t ever complain about anything.
"If any of the players needed anything, he was there for them. If there was trouble in the team, he always knew what to say; he was a great leader.
"In terms of me and him playing together, he didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Spanish, so we pretty much had to read each other’s body language or use translation sometimes to get a point across.
"He taught me quite a bit about defending and playing hard on the field. I think more than anything, he taught me just to be professional and come every day ready to play."
– Jonathan Bornstein, former Chivas USA teammate
Both former MLSers currently work for Liga MX club Querétaro, helping club owner Amado Yáñez – who also owns Ascenso MX club Delfines del Carmen – on the playing side of the organization. Suárez serves as sporting vice president, while Campos is an advisor. Both travel south regularly.
Part of Suárez’s work recently involved scouting former Vancouver Whitecaps striker Camilo Sanvezzo, who made a controversial move to Querétaro in January after a prolonged standoff over the legality of the transfer.
Suárez reiterates what Querétaro executives said at the time: that the club was led to believe the 2013 MLS Golden Boot winner would be available to join los Gallos Blancos at the end of last season. But there are no hard feelings, he claims.
“Everything was fine with Vancouver [in the end] and there was no problem with MLS,” he says, “which was what Jorge Campos and I wanted, because we played here and have a very good relationship with MLS.”
Away from the Querétaro spotlight, Suárez admits that it’s one of his side projects with Campos that gives him most joy: training young players at the academy they run in Montebello, Calif.
The Academia Jorge Campos/Claudio Suárez Delfines LA has already sent six players to Mexico: two have joined Querétaro’s Under-17s, one went to Delfines del Carmen and three more to third-division side Delfines Acapulco.
Suárez served as an advisor to Chivas USA in 2011 and says he was under consideration to be the club's head coach. He still lives in Los Angeles and believes coaching is his next career move.
(Courtesy of Chivas USA)
But the former MLS duo is also attempting to establish links with LA Galaxy and Chivas USA.
“Not all the young ones are interested in going to Mexico,” Suárez says.
That’s not necessarily the case for Suárez, however. He believes his future is in coaching, and says he’s already had offers from Mexico for managerial positions that he has politely declined due to family commitments in Southern California. That may not be the case for much longer.
“If God wills, next year, I’ll coach if the opportunity comes up in MLS or in Mexico,” he says.
And although the Mexico legend may currently be working for a Liga MX club, he predicts big things for MLS and avidly follows its development.
“I think it’ll be considered one of the best leagues in the world due to the all the infrastructure it has,” he says. “They have been doing things right and planning well.”