MLSsoccer.com polled 22 of our editors, writers, videographers, statistics specialists and social media masters to bring you the Stories of the Year, our annual look at the biggest storylines from the outgoing year in Major League Soccer. Contributing editor Alicia Rodriguez recalls the many changes for MLS in Southern California.
It was a year of transition for Major League Soccer in Los Angeles in 2014.
In some ways it was a familiar story, as the LA Galaxy won their third MLS Cup in four years. But for the second team in Los Angeles, this season represented a series of endings, as well as a new beginning.
Chivas USA entered the season with a new ownership situation, as MLS purchased the team from Jorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes in February, following roughly a year and a half of the Guadalajara-based couple running the club. Chivas USA finished the 2012 season on a 14-game winless span, and followed that up with a disastrous 2013 campaign, going through two coaches, finishing last in the Western Conference and enduring another 14-game winless run midseason as well as a five-game losing streak to end the year.
But with the league in charge, former MLS executive Nelson Rodriguez installed as team president and former US Under-17 head coach Wilmer Cabrera in charge as the Goats' fifth head coach in five seasons, there was hope the club could turn over a new leaf while the league looked for a new ownership group for the club.
- STORIES OF THE YEAR: Sounders win Supporters' Shield, US Open Cup
Perhaps the writing was on the wall from the day the league's takeover was announced, when Vergara told a Spanish-language radio show, “The Chivas USA concept did not work out.” Despite drawing large crowds and generating buzz in the team's first couple seasons, the club failed to regularly draw many Chivas de Guadalajara fans or the larger soccer-loving population of the area on a regular basis as time passed.
On the field, Chivas USA improved in fits and starts in 2014, highlighted by a four-game winning streak coming out of the league's break during the World Cup and winning three of four games in October to end the season on a high note. Featuring young Mexican striker Erick "Cubo" Torres – who enjoyed a breakout season with 15 goals and an MLS All-Star selection – there were reasons for optimism, but the team never truly threatened to reach the postseason.
The struggles continued off the field as well, as attendance numbers were poor, boosted only by the rivalry games against the Galaxy and a single game in October against Real Salt Lake.
“Just look around,” Rodriguez told reporters during halftime of the season opener against the Chicago Fire. "The answer is pretty evident. We’re nowhere near where we’d like to be [when it comes to stadium attendance].
“I had no illusions that just a change in ownership group, or my or coach [Wilmer] Cabrera’s arrival was going to suddenly signal a change. The fans need to see a tangible difference, and it will take time to win them over. That’s why our mission is on a daily basis to get better and to do the right things in the right way.”
By the time September rolled around, with no announcement regarding a new owner for the club, reports began to circulate about the future of the team. Though initial reports had it that Chivas USA was set to go on hiatus, the reality was rather different.
- STORIES OF THE YEAR: MLS expansion surge welcomes new, optimistic markets
On Oct. 27, the day after Chivas USA played their final game, the league announced the club would cease operations immediately. The eulogies were relatively short, and the Chivas players were eventually dispersed around MLS. And within a week of Chivas USA's last gasp came the official announcement for a new team planned in Los Angeles with a star-studded ownership group.
Led by three prinicipal owners – businessman Henry Nguyen, entertainment executive and Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Peter Guber and former NBA executive and current ESPN television analyst Tom Penn – the Los Angeles Football Club made clear their break from Chivas USA, but were enthusiastic about building a brand new club from the ground up. With the new LA team expected to join MLS play in 2017, the question is whether the next version of LA's second team can avoid the mistakes of its predecessor and become a true competitor, both in LA and around the league.
Up next? A stadium site to find, players to sign, new fans to win over and – perhaps most importantly – a rivalry to conquer against the Galaxy, who have ruled LA soccer for nearly 20 years.
"We’re in the drama business," Guber said during the event announcing the new LA team in October. "That’s the drama: Can we compete? Someone asked me, ‘How are you ever going to compete as the second team in the market place?’
"Well, I said, ‘Maybe by becoming the first team.’”