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MLS Restrictions Will Impede Chivas USA's Roster Makeover

There's been a great deal of speculation about what changes will take place at Chivas USA. We don't know the direction of the club at this point, but we temper some of the rumors with some discussion of MLS realities.

Jorge, we're pretty sure you're safe in the 2013 squad.
Jorge, we're pretty sure you're safe in the 2013 squad.
Victor Decolongon

Let's start with what we know: Jorge Vergara is the full owner of Chivas USA now, along with his wife Angelica Fuentes. Jose David has been hired as the new club President, and Jose Luis Real is now part of the soccer operations of the club, while living full-time in Guadalajara and continuing his position with C.D. Guadalajara.

That's all we know. What we expect to see is Robin Fraser being put out of his misery and get relieved of his duties as head coach, and for the roster to undergo major changes again ahead of the 2013 season.

What the tea leaves say will also happen is that Chivas USA will sign more Mexican and Mexican-American players, as it would match Chivas de Guadalajara's Mexican-only policy for players (although this is currently in dispute with rumors of Herculez Gomez joining the team). Of course, there is no indication this will actually happen, but in connecting the dots, it seems at the very least plausible.

There are some considerations before folks assume that Chivas USA will go full speed ahead with the "Solo Mexicanos" policy.

First, among the many roster rules in MLS is a cap on the number of international players. Of course, the actual amount of slots available is never publicly disclosed by the league or club (which is an ongoing problem), but my best estimate is that Chivas USA had eight international slots in 2012. Although some of the players on the roster have foreign citizenship, they have green cards, so Shalrie Joseph and Alejandro Moreno, for example, do not count as international players.

The Goats traded away an international slot for 2013, that will return to them in 2014, to the Montreal Impact in exchange for Bobby Burling's rights. As a result, Chivas will have seven international slots for the 2013 season, unless they obtain more in trades.

My estimate is that the following players in 2012 were international players on the team: Miller Bolanos, Paolo Cardozo, Jose Correa, Laurent Courtois, Oswaldo Minda, Ryan Smith, John Valencia.

If Chivas choose to move to having a Latino-heavy squad in 2013, they can choose to keep five of the seven players, as Smith and Courtois are of course European. Of the five Latino players, however, none hail from Mexico. So, will the incoming regime choose to clear the decks and drop most or all of the international players in order to maximize their options? That remains to be seen.

Obviously, one workaround to the international slot issue would be to pursue Mexican-Americans, or at least Mexicans with green cards. With the number of Chicanos who are being courted by Mexican clubs, there is unquestionably a pool of players at all levels who Chivas USA could target. Although it would be foolhardy to pick players primarily because of their ethnicity, the example of the amateur Cal FC squad that Eric Wynalda put together for the U.S. Open Cup run this season, that featured several Latino players, means there are diamonds in the rough in the U.S. soccer system, many of whom are players from immigrant and/or disadvantaged backgrounds who slipped through the USSF structure.

But say Chivas USA go after Mexican-heritage players in MLS. Before long, the market value of these players will skyrocket against the Goats, much like it does in Mexico with Mexican players and Chivas de Guadalajara. Suppose Omar Gonzalez was offered a contract by Chivas USA - how much would his salary need to be? $3.5 million? $4 million? Would he even entertain an offer like that to stay in the league but leave the LA Galaxy?

And the cost is another issue that could hamper Chivas USA moving into 2013. It is pretty fun to speculate on which Mexican stars the club will pursue in order to ring in a new era, but even if a player wants to come over, how much will he have to be paid? The aforementioned Herculez Gomez has been bandied about as a dream signing for Chivas USA among fans, for obvious reasons. But Gomez makes a lot more money in Mexico, and has been candid about it, than he could have if he stayed in MLS his whole career. Even when he was coming off the bench for smaller clubs like Puebla and Estudiantes Tecos, he earned more than all but a handful of MLS players. And the money washing around the Liga MX makes the motivation to move to a new country and new league for most players practically nonexistent. Even Pavel Pardo, who wanted to move to the U.S. to play in part because he was reportedly interested in improving his English, waited until he was in his mid-30s to come to MLS.

Of course, Chivas USA could still choose to sign one to three stars from Mexico and pay them Designated Player wages, and as long as those were shrewd signings for motivated players, it could really help the team improve its form. But will Chivas put 30 Mexicans on their roster next season? Probably not, unless they clear the decks for all but Jorge Villafana and possibly Marky Delgado (I'm not sure about his ethnicity), sign the maximum number of international Mexicans, and fill out the rest of the roster with Mexicans with green cards or Mexican Americans. That is possible, but it doesn't seem like any transformation that drastic would take place in a single year.

Also, I should point out one more time that selecting players of a single racial or ethnic group is against United States labor laws, and, you know, also discriminatory to non-Latino or non-Mexican players. That seems significant, but we'll leave that alone until decisions at the club necessitate that discussion.

Nonetheless, we still don't know what's coming and what direction Chivas USA is actually heading in 2013. Speculation is one thing, and reality another. But those expecting an all-Mexican policy will have to temper that with the realities of the MLS roster structure and salary cap. That may also include the club's new brain trust.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!