Figuring out the granular details surrounding any sort of move made by Chivas USA requires a bit of diligence. It shouldn't come as a surprise: Red-and-White investor/operator Jorge Vergara can't even figure out what he wants to do with the team on a daily basis.
Take the uncertainty surrounding the vacant managerial position as the latest instance in a recurring pattern. Several candidates from Mexico and the United States featured in the discussion. One of the favorites even started discussing the club on Twitter last week. And yet the debate lurches onward as the club attempts to sort itself in time for a preseason camp scheduled to start little more than a month from now. No immediate sign of resolution. No tangible progress for a club in desperate need of consistency and reliability.
If there is one possible saving grace amid all this uncertainty, it is that Vergara plans to orient his side in a particular direction. He said during a press conference last month that he wants Chivas USA to cultivate Mexican-American players in southern California and return to its Mexican roots. In short, he wants to give this club the identity it currently lacks.
(Note: He also said that he'd appoint a boss in short order. That plan hasn't exactly unfolded as anticipated.)
Cast aside the odious nature of Vergara's proclamations for a moment. Place the skepticism about the viability of such a project in MLS to the side, too. Those concerns are valid and worthy of further discussion, but they do not necessarily evaluate Vergara's proposal on its merits.
If Vergara wants to persist down this ill-advised path, he must commit ample resources to give Chivas USA the best chance to succeed. He must plunge millions of dollars into his playing squad and millions of dollars into his youth development setup. This isn't the type of vision that will somehow create a profitable reality without significant investment.
Vergara tried to implement similar ideas when Chivas USA entered the league in 2005. He turned to his usual mixture of Dutch and Mexican influences to concoct a winning side. He imported a couple of aging stars and a raft of underwhelming players from Mexican reserve teams and second-division outfits. He watched them flail and flounder.
Similar concepts will yield similar results this time around unless Vergara is prepared to take the necessary steps to avoid such follies. Capable players, not castoffs (and probably not center backs, if recent examples provide any sort of road map), are required to navigate through the particularly prickly thicket presented by MLS defenses.
The transition from Liga MX to MLS isn't as easy as one might expect give the gulf between the two leagues. The athletic demands are more rigorous in MLS. The tempo is generally higher. Opposing players usually close down far more quickly in the middle third and reduce the time and space allotted in possession.
Those factors place significant stress on players to increase their speed of thought and rely on their skill to sidestep those physical issues. Lesser figures struggle to cope with the strain of playing a physically demanding league. The additional pressure causes their technical qualities to falter and highlights their flaws all too readily.
Such concerns are not as readily apparent for players with a higher level of technical ability. Prominent MLS players cope with robust treatment from opposing defenses, but they also thrive because they possess the necessary tools to pick apart those rearguards and step around those nasty tackles. Several players capable of thriving in MLS ply their trade in Mexico, but they usually assume starting roles for their clubs and prefer to remain south of the border to cash far more lucrative paychecks.
Vergara can persuade a few players with the necessary qualities to join Chivas USA, but they will not move to MLS cheaply. He must pay market value for a couple of Designated Players (and not the over-the-hill types, either) to form the proper foundation for the side. He must plug a couple of other gaps wisely with players on significant money by MLS standards. He must understand that Americans will still comprise the bulk of his defense and the majority of his squad. If he wants young players from southern California to take those places, then he must pump money into youth development to close the gap with the Galaxy's academy system.
(Note: Chivas USA currently has Shalrie Joseph and Oswaldo Minda on the books as Designated Players for next season. Joseph's contract is guaranteed for 2013 after he appeared in a contractually dictated number of matches during the 2012 season. Minda's contractual status is less clear. If both players return, then the Red-and-White will have to use their third DP slot to bring in a high-profile Mexican player. Even if Joseph stays and Minda departs, Chivas USA should contemplate importing a pair of players from Liga MX to join him. And those whispers about shipping Dan Kennedy elsewhere [or even across the hall] should probably stop right now if the Red-and-White wants to compete next season, too.)
Little evidence exists to suggest Vergara understands that he cannot build the squad he wants on the cheap. He has time and again failed to provide the necessary support required to compete with teams with clear operating principles, deft executives and full wallets. He may not learn the lesson in time to install his current directives this time, either.
If Chivas USA falters yet again, then the blame falls squarely at Vergara's door. He outlined the project and placed the onus on his incoming technical staffers to enact his wishes. Now he must find a way to see it through or wrestle with the inevitable questions about why his club fails to meet the necessary standards required to achieve success in MLS.
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