tBG) Chivas USA seems to be a team making improvements after a disastrous couple of seasons. What are some of the biggest reasons for this, and can we expect this trend to continue?
tGP) Well, the biggest reason the team appears to be headed on an improved path is that former owner Jorge Vergara is no longer in the picture. It may sound like an exaggeration to place the blame at one person's feet, and to be sure, there have been some struggles with the front office, coaches, players, etc. But Vergara's institutional tone set the rest of the organization up for failure, frankly. But what's done is done. The bigger challenge now is to dig out of the rubble of underinvestment and incompetence, as well as make sure the next owner of this club will have the right priorities and be able to improve the team. As much as folks would like the slate to be magically wiped clean with Vergara's departure, it doesn't work like that, and it's going to take a while to get into a respectable position again.
As far as on-field performance, new head coach Wilmer Cabrera seems to be unafraid to combine experience and youth, and a fair number of new additions are playing well. In particular, a quartet of Argentine midfielders have played well, with Mauro Rosales, Agustin Pelletieri, Leandro Barrera, and more recently, Martin Rivero getting regular action for the Goats. And if a newcomer isn't working out, the club is not afraid to cut bait quickly and move on.
tBG) Much was made about Chivas' attempt to mirror the parent club in Guadalajara's Mexican-only player policy and the charges of racism by members of the coaching staff. How did that effect the fan base, and what has been done to try and heal those wounds?
tGP) We're in a transition phase, still, so it's hard to say what will happen ultimately. In that way, this 2014 season is good in that the team has moved past the Vergara era, which was definitely necessary, but there is still a sense of uncertainty regarding what's going to happen moving forward. I think most surviving Chivas USA fans are looking forward to the future, but there are still fans who are apprehensive and concerned the new owner will not materialize or that the team will ultimately move away from LA.
As far as immediate changes, the former front office has been cleared out entirely, and the team is no longer signing only Latino players. I think there's a sense that one of the strengths of the club is the Latino identity, but obviously after the lawsuits brought against the club last year, nobody is looking to go back to that strategy and even prudent ideas of marketing to Latinos in the region are largely on the back burner at present while we wait and see who the new owners will be.
tBG) Black Army 1850 has started a campaign to raise the funds needed to buy the club from MLS. How is that going, and what are the plans in the event the money can't be raised? Will the group have a hand in working with the league an the new ownership, and what role will the other groups have?
tGP) I have not heard any updates recently about the campaign, so I'm not sure, to be honest. The group did say when they announced the campaign that in the event they were unsuccessful in purchasing the team, they would donate any money they had collected to charity. Although having a supporter-owned club would be pretty interesting in American sports, I think it's quite likely we'll see the regular pattern of "rich guy/rich family/rich consortium" as the new owners of Chivas USA, not least because one of the priorities for the new owners has to be getting this team a stadium of their own, and it will almost certainly have to be built.
I will say the efforts of the two surviving supporters groups of the team, the Black Army 1850 and Union Ultras, has been nothing short of impressive in very trying circumstances. Both groups have pledged their support to the team beyond this season, and despite continual abuse from opposing fans, frequently testy relations with the organization in the past, players who are not always willing to take the time to thank fans after games, and of course, dwindling support, they have been firm and constant in their support. If the next ownership group does not bend over backwards trying to get the support of these groups, not to mention the other non-affiliated existing fans, they will be making a huge mistake, in my opinion.
Starting XI: Dan Kennedy; Eric Avila, Eriq Zavaleta, Carlos Bocanegra, Donny Toia; Martin Rivero, Oswaldo Minda, Carlos Alvarez, Agustin Pelletieri, Leandro Barrera; Erick Torres
Prediction: You know, I think it's going to be really close. Both teams can play well at times, and both usually play poorly. Chivas USA have never beaten the Union...but I'll be optimistic and go for the streak breaker. 2-1 Chivas.