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Chivas USA should study Sporting Kansas City as a lesson in revitalizing an MLS club

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The team that transformed itself is hosting the MLS Cup final.

Fans fill the seats at Sporting Park, opened in 2011.
Fans fill the seats at Sporting Park, opened in 2011.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Picture this: An MLS team struggles to draw interest in the local market. There are concerns over ownership, no permanent stadium for the team (not to mention a situation in which the team has had to share a stadium with a bigger partner), and no trip to the playoffs yet again.

Does that sound like Chivas USA? Of course. But this exact scenario described Sporting Kansas City just a few short years ago.

SKC is one of the original MLS franchises, of course, and have enjoyed some success in the past, with an MLS Cup in 2000 and the U.S. Open Cup in 2004. But before the change to the current ownership group, before the team rebrand and the christening of a brand new soccer-specific stadium, Sporting was a team that seemed like it was going to be left in the dust of the newer clubs joining the league.

But with ambitious plans to take the Kansas City Wizards into MLS 2.0, the club has been completely rejuvenated, and they are not only MLS Cup finalists this year, they are one of the most admired franchises in MLS. Sporting Park is the envy of American soccer, with some people even lobbying to make it a permanent home for the U.S. Men's National Team (that doesn't look likely, of course). In addition to Saturday's MLS Cup final, the stadium hosted the MLS All-Star Game and a USMNT qualifier this year.

It didn't happen overnight, and the plan worked because the off-field and on-field products came together well. If they rebranded and opened a terrific stadium, but had an awful team, the plaudits would not roll in so quickly. But the team has essentially turned everything around because both the ownership and front office and the coach and players have contributed.

And for all the money poured into the stadium (reportedly $200 million), the team itself is not among the biggest spenders in MLS, a point SKC coach Peter Vermes has crowed very loudly about in recent weeks. Based on the available figures released by the MLS Players Union earlier this season, SKC ranked 11th in salaries in August 2013, well above Chivas USA in last place, but far below the biggest spenders. So the team invested in infrastructure, changed the name and colors, and gave the reins to a coach/GM with a reasonable, but limited budget.

The takeaway from all of this is that other MLS teams, and of course I'm thinking of Chivas USA here, can also come back from the struggles that have preceded them, provided they actually put a prudent plan into place and execute it. I know there's currently no indication there will be an ownership change, which was the catalyst for the revival in KC, and without a change in owner there will be no real prospect of a rebrand (putting aside the discussions about the efficacy of a rebrand, which has divided the fanbase). But smart investment, including the crucial step of getting the team a stadium of its own, and a real commitment on the part of ownership, pays dividends.

Perhaps most crucially, the example of Sporting Kansas City demonstrates that a team can be revitalized while remaining in the same market, something that could be salient to Chivas USA. It is absolutely possible. The question is whether Chivas USA will follow the blueprint laid out by SKC to MLS success.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!