Chivas USA: Where Fans go to Suffer

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Chivas USA is mired in a mess that it doesn't look likely to survive, and Goats fans are caught in the middle.

"Chivas USA."

Simply hearing the name will unleash grunts, scoffs and any number of slings and arrows in their general direction.

I used to be one of those who laughed. After all, the way they conduct business (if you could call their firesale "business") is laughable, their roster is in shambles, they lack a TV deal, they are always losing, et cetera, et cetera.

They have no fans, or so it would seem. On TV, their stadium has entire sections closed off to "improve the atmosphere" and to "make it a more intimate experience". The announced attendance numbers are ludicrous, not even closely related to the number of people clearly evident on the screen.

I see much glee directed at the colossal failures that envelop this team, on twitter and other online destinations, and I realized that my laughing at the team is a terrible thing to do. Why should any fan of this budding league take happiness in the sustained failures of one of its teams?

The clearly uninterested ownership group that control Chivas deserves no sympathy. They have taken a team with some interesting potential and absolutely scuttled it.

Who I feel sorry for are the fans.

Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here

There are fans there, believe it or not.

You see them banging the drums, waving the flags, releasing the odd smoke bomb and chanting as loudly as their limited numbers can muster. They own jerseys, go to every game, buy season tickets, and then go home to read and to write all about the team they love. When Chivas beat FC Dallas, they probably threw their panties (or boxers, as the case may be) on the stage and partied all night.

They go to the MLS website, or to their team store, and buy some glasses or mugs with the Chivas logo on them. They read the Goat Parade and lurk along other MLS sites, picking up bits and pieces of information where they can. They probably have a twitter account that follows all the Chivas players and Chelis.

They have done everything in their limited power to support the club, and it still isn't enough.

It's sad to consider that all they probably read on twitter and the rest of the internet inevitably involves rumors of a move, articles ripping their team to shreds, or otherwise columns upon columns of scorn and mockery.

I can't even imagine what it's like to be a Chivas USA fan right now. Few things can match the sports-heartache of seeing your team die a slow, humiliating, and rather public death. I can't claim to ever have been there. The teams I have supported have survived difficult times, but have never been on the verge of collapse. It's possible Chivas survives these difficult months, but it's hard to envision it at the moment. When the commissioner of the league calls your team's situation "frustrating", you know things are going badly.

For all our mocking Chivas, let's not forget the time FC Dallas was this (-------------- those lines? hold your fingers that far apart. That's how close.) close to being moved.

For financial reasons, both related and unrelated to stadium development, the Hunt Sports Group were rumored to be heavily considering moving the team elsewhere. Thankfully it all played out the way it has, and FC Dallas is currently enjoying a pretty big surge in attendance and fan involvement. Things have improved, fan involvement has picked up and the team is enjoying success. Thanks to a (now gone) savvy President and a newly involved owner (Dan Hunt), FCD's prospects for the future look pretty bright. Why, even a roof/awning might be built in the next ten years!

But what if that hadn't been the case, and the team had been moved away?

We would be those fans, sweating bullets with each press release that follows. It could very well be Big D Soccer covering all the latest about David Ferreira being traded away to some team for a third round draft pick and two cans of coke.

Drew would have to write scouting reports and previews in which half our team has been acquired on the cheap. Steve would have to do actual banking analysis to see if this team could survive past a few months, financially speaking. My Monday morning columns would consist of drunken, sobbing rants in which I pray to any deity that would listen to save our team.

Failure Is Never a Positive

Make no mistake, the failure of Chivas USA, or of any MLS team, is a terrible thing for the league and its fans. The world of soccer in the USA is different from most places in the world, and that's something a lot of MLS fans are reluctant to accept.

As with any American sport, MLS is a business and exists primarily to make money. If Chivas fails, it's just another red flag to people looking to invest in the league. Savvy business men will of course note that the ownership of CUSA is uniquely bad and almost exclusively to blame. This is not in doubt, and provides a ready-made excuse to those looking to attract more money to the league. But in the end, having a team fail in a massive market like Los Angeles is simply bad for business. No amount of "moving the team to SA/Orlando/San Diego" will change what is ultimately an ugly black mark on MLS' expansion record.

If you have been following Chivas, then it's easy to see that their issues run far beyond the standard complaints of "two teams in one city" and "they're branded as another Mexican club". For a good, long time now Chivas' marketing has been effectively zero. Marketing is something that's required to bring in new fans and which is entirely unrelated to their location and their parent-club, and yet their advertising budget consists of dollar bills and coupons to Golden Corral. Their owners give the manager zero financial backing, and instead resort to selling players behind El Chelis' back. Getting rid of Juan Agudelo is a spectacularly stupid move, regardless of his contract status. What kind of team in need of strikers sends off a promising (and currently cheap) young forward?

Oswaldo Minda went to the Ecuadorian media and complained about not getting paid what he was promised. That story has gone silent now (feel free to guess why), but even its existence should set off about three different alarm bells.

I contacted Alicia Ratterree of the SBN blog The Goat Parade, and here's what she had to say.

1) Is the team considered to be in serious danger of being moved?

"At this point, there's no concrete evidence that a move is imminent, and MLS has repeatedly denied over the past couple weeks that they will be making any sort of takeover of the club.


However...


I think Chivas USA fans are certainly bracing for the possibility of a move at some point in the near future. The current owner does not give the club the time of day, investing as little money and time as possible. Attendance problems, which have been an issue for a few years now, are worse than ever, as the team does no marketing to the giant LA region. Rumors that both Chivas de Guadalajara and Chivas USA will be sold soon keep cropping up, and the latest rumors say that the prospective buyer, Carlos Slim, has no interest in Chivas USA. So while I can't say for certain something will or won't happen regarding a move, it at least seems plausible, something that can't be said for practically any other MLS club at the moment."

2) What has it been like to support this team through all this mess? Have you been there from day one?

"It's been hard following the team in recent years, no doubt. I consistently say that Chivas USA is the only club in MLS where fans are routinely told their team is a "failure" and they should be folded. By no means would I defend the management in recent times, since they've done a fantastic job of alienating everybody they can as well. Throw the fact that the team has been very bad the last three seasons, and it's been pretty brutal to be a fan of this team.

That said, I became a fan of this team in 2006, after moving to Southern California. I had a choice of which local club to follow, and I picked Chivas USA. There are times I wonder why, especially when the Goats suffer blowout loss after blowout loss, but all in all, I stand by that decision. And one of the best parts of becoming a Chivas USA fan has been to meet so many other fans of the team, people who don't miss a match at the stadium, people who like to discuss the good and the bad as much as I do. There is a community feel to the fanbase, and when the rumors look bad, when the results go against our team, when the haters come out in full force, we have each other to count on. I'm very grateful for that."

What do the supporters have to do with any of these negative things? You can't really pick what team you fall in love with. A lot of times, a team just calls out to you, and the bond is formed. For whatever reason, these fans have chosen Chivas, and those guys and gals aren't about to stop backing their team because things go south.

They are few in number, very few if the stands are any indication. But for those that do exist, the fire for their team burns as hot as any other supporter, no different than the Inferno or the Dallas Beer Guardians.

It probably hurts like hell to know that three or four MLS-hungry cities are circling like vultures, ready to take their team from them.

Here's to you, dedicated Chivas fans. You guys deserve better.

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