By Zac Lee Rigg
It was a frustrating year for Chivas USA. The team averaged over six injuries per game, and fielded a total of 10 different players in the two striking positions. In what was supposed to be the season that the 2007 Western Division winners consolidated their dominant position and pushed on as young stars developed turned into a mad scramble to fill holes in the starting XI.
The injury blight spared no one. Rafael Wicky, an experienced and talented Swiss international brought in for a solid chunk of the wage bill, took part in only five games all season. Maykel Galindo didn’t look full fit when he did play. Sacha Kljestan missed games frequently to participate in international play. Jonathan Bornstein’s absence meant winger Francisco Mendoza converted to a left back for most of the season, though he admittedly took to his new position well. The pillar of the back, Brad Guzan, left for England midseason, and captain Claudio Suarez didn’t seem to be able to string two starts together.
Eventually the team stumbled into the playoffs, but inconsistent form caught up with them in the first round against Real Salt Lake, where they were unexpectedly dumped out. It was the third season in a row in which Chivas fell at that same stage.
Unable to build any sort of consistency, the team never looked like its 2007 version which had impressed so many with slick passing and an impenetrable defense. The 2008 version was easily breached and inconsistent.
Late in November, the squad had to watch from the stands as the Columbus Crew won the MLS Cup in their home stadium, the Home Depot Center. Preki did well to coax performances from his squad, but that will have stung his pride.
Here’s a month-by-month recap of the past year so you can see just how it all happened:
January: Aleco Eskandarian, Jim Curtin, and Atiba Harris all joined the club. Keith Savage was the lone draft pick by the team. Brad Guzan trained with Celtic and then agreed to a fee with Aston Villa, but his work permit application was turned down so he stayed in Los Angeles. Lawson Vaughn underwent surgery on his left ankle that ruled him out of most of the season.
February: Swiss midfielder Rafael Wicky joined the club from Germany and was expected to boost the midfield, but ended up starting only one match due to persistent injuries. Preseason matches in California against MLS opposition went well.
March: Surgery on an ACL injury kept Alex Zotinca out of action until September. Francisco Mendoza signed a contract extension. John Cunliffe left for the San Jose Earthquakes in return for Chris Pozniak. Preseason games continued in Texas before the season opener against FC Dallas, which ended in a draw.
Record: One draw.
April: The club acquired ‘keeper Dan Kennedy from Municipal Iquique of Chile as cover. The 4-3 loss to Columbus was one of the games of the season with some stunning goals and atrocious defensive play. Galaxy took the first SuperClasico comprehensively, winning 5-2.
Record: One win, three losses.
May: In an effort to plug injury holes, the club traded for Carey Talley. To make room, Pozniak was released by the club. Jorge Flores, who initially earned a contract with the club by winning a reality TV show called Sueno MLS, scored his first goal for the club. One week after that, he earned his first start, and went on to score three goals in three games. Chivas recorded its first away win of the season against the Colorado Rapids, en route to the club building some form. Vaughn broke his nose and cut his cheek defending a Dwayne De Rosario bicycle kick.
Record: three wins, one draw, and one loss.
June: Saw the team halter and sputter, struggling to field a complete team or a consecutive lineup. Played Red Bull New York twice, winning one and drawing the other.
Record: One win, one draw, and two losses.
July: Ante Razov scored an impressive six goals in six consecutive games. Unfortunately, no one else in the club scored this month. The SuperClasico against the LA Galaxy on July 10th, which ended as a 1-1 draw, marked Brad Guzan’s last game with the club. The Chivas USA original was purchased by Aston Villa and this time his permit went through. The second half of the month saw the club take a break from MLS action and join SuperLiga in the club’s first taste of international competition. However, they fell out at the group stages with four points. Roberto Nurse joined from Mexican side Queretaro but failed to make an impact. Chivas fell, once again, to the USL Seattle Sounders in the Open Cup.
Record: Two wins, two draws, and two losses.
August: Zach Thornton was brought in from New York to fill the goalkeeping void left by Guzan’s departure. Jesse Marsch fractured his jaw in the SuperClasico as Sean Franklin elbowed him in the face. The vice-captain had his jaw wired shut and didn’t return for five weeks. Galaxy lifted the cup after a brief physical squabble involving Pete Vagenas and Preki. Sacha Kljestan played in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and missed most of the month. The club took part in its first ever CONCACAF Champions’ League game, but could not pass Tauro FC in a two-match qualifier. Ultimately, the team couldn’t cope with its injury losses and recorded four losses out of seven matches.
Record: One win, two draws, and four losses.
September: Sacha Victorine joined the club from Kansas City Wizards in return for allocation money, and walked straight into the first team. He started four consecutive games, scoring two goals, but was injured in the fourth match. He didn’t play again for the rest of the season and isn’t expected back until May, 2009. Dejair also joined, but was eased into the squad. Wicky, Vaughn, and Eric Ebert were added to the season injury list to cap off forgettable years for all three. Won the last ever game at Rice-Eccles Stadium before Real Salt Lake moved to Rio Tinto Stadium. Preki built a squad out of the ashes of his first team and made a move towards the playoffs.
Record: Three wins, one draw, and one loss.
October: Clinched playoff spot for the third year in a row. Finished second to Houston in the Western Conference. A much hyped home game against Houston on the last day of the regular season ultimately meant nothing and the teams battled to a 1-1 draw.
Record: Two wins, one draw, and one loss.
November: Chivas crashed out in the first round of the playoffs for the third year running. This time it was to Real Salt Lake. A last minute Yura Movsisyan goal decided the first leg, and a choppy home draw in the second leg spelled an early holiday for the players and staff.
Record: One draw and one loss.
December: Roberto Nurse was cut from the team after making two appearances. Kljestan won the 2008 US Young Male Athlete of the Year Award. Comments from Jorge Vergara suggested at coaching changes, and assistant coach Mike Matkovich left to take over the USA U-18 team.
Zac Lee Rigg is an associate editor of Goal.com