FRISCO, Texas — The 2014 MLS season will be the final one for Chivas USA.
The club will continue to exist, but in the same way a restaurant does when it finally caves to years of neglect. “Under new management,” the signs might read, with a shiny new paint job and more smiling faces designed to mentally paste over the legacy of failure and difficult lessons learned.
But the transformation away from owner Jorge Vergara and the Chivas de Guadalajara front office (and brand) has already started, even if the colors and name remain throughout 2014. Coach Wilmer Cabrera is the man who has been tasked with taking a sledgehammer to its crummy reputation and building a team that can find success.
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After a 1-1 draw here Saturday, he has navigated the team to a 2-5-4 record. While 10 points isn’t a monumental haul, Cabrera is happy enough with what his team has been able to achieve, even if Chivas USA was sitting on a higher point total at this stage last season. What will be more important for the Rojiblancos is to avoid the long losing streaks they fell victim to in 2013 or the 14-game winless streak they closed with in 2012. The former Colombia international has had to keep the team in good spirits while juggling injures and other absences, so Cabrera is finding inspiration even in seemingly average results.
“Everyone has a very good mentality. Everyone knows if we would like to change this franchise, we have to go harder and we have to do it thinking that we have to work double than anyone else,” Cabrera said after the draw. “Why? Because we are in a difficult situation. So that’s the mentality we have every time.
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“When we lose we don’t give up and when we have won, we know that it isn’t going to be easy the next game. So, we go game by game, and we try to work on what we work throughout the week and the results you can see on the field. It’s an organized team. It’s a pretty good team, and little by little we’re getting there.”
Saturday’s match saw more reasons to hope for the future. Marco Delgado scored his first professional goal, saying after the game that goalkeeper Dan Kennedy had presciently predicted prior to the match that he’d get off the mark. Delgado, Chivas loanee Erick “Cubo” Torres and Carlos Alvarez are part of a group of young players who could engineer a turnaround. Promising rookie Thomas McNamara is out for the season after an ACL tear and young defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste is missing time after sports hernia surgery, but both could also be components in the future.
Those young players mix with experienced veterans like Kennedy and offseason acquisition Mauro Rosales, and the Los Angeles outfit hopes the mix of raw talent and experience will prove mutually beneficial.
Kennedy, who has been between the posts for Chivas USA since 2008 and seen most of the lows firsthand, thinks this year is the kind of shift needed to move from the basement of the league to becoming a respectable club.
“I think we’re just building a foundation that can be competitive in this league. The last seven, eight days, you’ve seen that in the results that we’ve gotten,” Kennedy said.
Part of that, the goalkeeper believes, is the addition of a backroom staff that is familiar with the way the game functions in the United States rather than being ported in from Mexico.
“Wilmer and the coaching staff have experience inside of not only U.S. soccer but Major League Soccer,” Kennedy said. “It’s important particularly in our league to be able to go back and draw from those experiences. It’s been a smoother ride, and ideally what you see is us improving throughout the year because of it.”
Those small enhancements building over time is what the club will need to build customers’ trust, get results on the field and leave the substandard Chivas USA legacy behind.