By Zac Lee Rigg - LOS ANGELES, CA (Sep 5, 2012) US Soccer Players -- The situation at Chivas USA is unclear at the moment. When Chivas de Guadalajara owner Jorge Vergara bought out co-owner Antonio Cue on Wednesday, it took a day for the Los Angeles Times to report that Vergara had dismissed general manager Jose Domene. That night, Domene tweeted that he had not, in fact, been fired, and the 32-year-old took in the early part of practice on Friday.
Though he said “I'm around,” Domene declined to speak with the press, instead hosting a visitor from Vergara's camp through much of the day. The Times is not in the habit of publishing incorrect information. The club issued a press release on Friday addressed "to the fans and media" attempting to address the communications issue. "There have been various comments and speculations published regarding decisions within the Chivas USA organization. Any change in the organization will be communicated accordingly by the organization’s official channels."
As one would expect, yet there was still no clarification of the club's senior management status. Given Vergara's twitchy finger – 16 coaches in 10 years with his Liga MX club – one imagines a few heads will roll at the California branch before too long.
“I don't know all the details about that,” head coach Robin Fraser said about Domene's status after training. At least publicly, no one does. Then again, not much at Chivas USA has been well defined since its inception.
When Vergara and Cue first expanded the team in Major League Soccer, the idea was to capture southern California's rabid Hispanic fanbase. Instead, branding the team and jerseys after the Guadalajara club ostracized the fans of other Mexican teams, especially those of Club America. Attendance has hung around 15,000 in the 27,000-seat Home Depot Center through the years.
In the wake of several poor and perhaps haughty marketing assumptions, the team floundered around, gasping for an identity. The closest it came was during the time of coach Preki, when a functional playing style embodied by Jesse Marsch and the aging Claudio Suarez led to several playoffs appearances. This is highlighted at the bottom of every message the club sends out, in the About Chivas USA section: "From 2006-2009, the Mexican-owned club qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs in four consecutive seasons, to the delight of its passionate supporters."
What that doesn't mention is that the club has never advanced past the first round in the postseason. Now that the team has missed the playoffs two years running, finishing eighth in the West both times, it doesn't bode well for those in the firing line of Vergara.
Of course, Vergara's other team is the midst of an identity crisis of its own. Club Deportivo Guadalajara, the team that traditionally has only fielded Mexican players, is going Dutch, with Johan Cruyff acting as an official adviser and John van 't Schip the coach. The Rojiblancos have one win in seven this season. The only title of Vergara's 10-year tenure was the 2006 Apertura.
With Chivas USA down in seventh place in the West (albeit with several games in hand), having scored a league-low 20 goals, and with attendance down 11 percent from last season, changes may extend past replacing the general manager. The club has one year left in the deal to rent the Home Depot Center, which it shares with the LA Galaxy. Rumors continue to hint at a move away from Los Angeles, down the I-5 to San Diego or to Arizona or even farther away.
With only uncertainty above, Fraser can only worry about the turf below.
“There's always distractions. Our focus needs to be on what we have control over as a staff and as players. What we have control over is what we do on the field,” he said. “What's going above us is immaterial or irrelevant because our focus is really on the field.”
The team has nine games to move into a playoff position, assuming Vergara gives it that long. Fraser took heart from a three-goal comeback to draw with the New England Revolution midweek.
“I think it's been building,” he said. “We feel like we're in a process, that we're getting close to being a dangerous team.”
The Goats promptly went out and lost 4-0 to the San Jose Earthquakes. A cynic might argue this process has been ongoing – restarted and abruptly canceled several times – since 2005. “I feel like a broken record, week after week,” Fraser said. “We've got to get points.”
Zac Lee Rigg is a Senior Editor of Goal.com.