Of all the trades Chivas USA made for 2013, the one that landed midfielder Eric Avila has to be the best. Though it can be argued dumping Shalrie Joseph's albatross of a contract was also good business, Chivas had to give up a bunch just to get him off their hands. With Avila, Chivas not only got a living, breathing current MLS player, they got a player who was among their few bright spots for the season.
Chivas landed Avila in exchange for Nick LaBrocca prior to the season, and at the time it was a move that was not guaranteed to pay off. Although LaBrocca slumped badly in 2012 compared to his breakout a season earlier, he was a regular contributor to Chivas and able to play a few roles in the midfield. In comparison, Avila was a player of considerable promise who had never seemed to be able to make the step up to consistent contributor in MLS. As a result, his first MLS team, FC Dallas, traded him to Toronto FC after three and a half years. With Toronto, he played more minutes than he had ever managed with FCD, but after his contract was up following the 2012 season, TFC opted not to re-sign him. The Colorado Rapids selected him in the Re-Entry draft, but never signed him, instead flipping him to Chivas for LaBrocca.
Despite the mixed returns, Avila had in many respects a breakout season for Chivas, one that turned out to be good enough that he was nearly transferred to Chivas de Guadalajara amid proclamations on his behalf that he would never represent the United States Men's National Team (though that seems like a nonexistent possibility).
Avila set career highs in goals scored, minutes played, starts and appearances. He also tied for second on Chivas in combined goals and assists, with five. Though that isn't an eye-popping number, it is better than what nearly all of his teammates could muster.
Put simply, Avila's experience in MLS and attacking skills set him apart from nearly all of his teammates. He started the season as a right-sided wingback, with Chelís' three-man defense requiring midfielders to have more defensive responsibilities, and publicly Avila seemed receptive to the position change. But as Chelís' system fell apart and Jose Luis Real revamped the defense to a standard backline, Avila became a right-sided midfielder once more in a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 formation.
On the plus side, Avila could go after opposing defenders better than any other player on the team in 2013, and his ability to dribble, cross, and shoot made him a multi-faceted attacker, the likes of which Chivas needed much more of.
Here are Avila's statistics in 2013:
|Games Played||Games Started||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Shots||SOG||Yellow Cards||Red Cards|
|MLS Regular Season||28||24||2,183||3||2||27||10||1||1|
|U.S. Open Cup||1||0||69||0||0||0||0||0||0|
The main negative in Avila's season was that he didn't contribute more. I contend it was a breakout year for the San Diego native, but it some respects that is by the standards of Chivas, a team that was in the bottom three of goals scored in 2013. He wasn't even in the top 100 in MLS in assists, and barely made it into the top 100 in goals. For one of the main attacking weapons on the team, that's simply not good enough if you want said team to make the playoffs.
I think we can be happy that Avila reached more of his potential in 2013. He was one of the few players who was fun to watch week in and week out, and he was capable of grabbing games for 10 minute periods and really dictating play. But hopefully 2013 is just the start, as Avila can improve, and if Chivas are to become a better team, he must contribute more regularly in the goals and assists columns.
From all appearances, Avila will be back for the 2014 season. There is, of course, the not-so-small matter of whether he will end up with Chivas de Guadalajara at some point. He left Chivas USA in late-June to go to Guadalajara during their 2013 Apertura preparations, effectively on trial, though Chivas' coach at the time Benjamin Galindo was quite bullish on the 26-year-old. Galindo is gone, of course, but Avila's last coach, Jose Luis Real, leads CD Guadalajara, so it is possible he may seek to bring Avila back again.
It is unclear if Avila just didn't make the grade in Mexico or if the groundswell of negative reaction to Avila becoming the first player to head to Chivas de Guadalajara under the organization's presumed policy of turning Chivas USA into a full-fledged farm team gave the front office pause and led him back to MLS. For Avila's part, he seemed genuinely excited by the opportunity to play in Liga MX, and I don't begrudge him that. But I also have no interest in seeing Chivas USA treated so carelessly by the management, and I hope the farm team strategy has been put to bed. Still, the possibility of Avila or other Mexican Americans on Chivas USA being transferred to Chivas de Guadalajara hangs in the air for the time being. It looks like Avila will remain in California, but one never quite knows in this business, and with this club.
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