The three worst teams in MLS in 2013, by a long shot, were D.C. United, Toronto FC, and our very own Chivas USA. Though Toronto has never had an entirely successful season in their history, Chivas' glory days are long behind them at this point and D.C. have had whiplash-inducing seasons in recent times. But the three clubs were united by their own futility in 2013.
The page has turned on that terrible season, however, and all three clubs are trying to claw their way into respectability, perhaps more. The preseason is not set to open for another week, and the 2014 season is more than six weeks away. But all three teams have been making moves to try and set them up for a better 2014.
The question is which team is "winning" this rebuilding project. Obviously it's all on paper right now, there are still moves to be made, etc. But at this moment, Chivas lags far behind TFC and D.C. in getting ready for 2014. Let's look at some of the reasons:
To a large extent, Chivas falling behind the other two clubs in making moves may come down to the fact that Chivas was the only team of the trio to change coaches this offseason. Though many were surprised to see Ryan Nelsen and Ben Olsen continue at Toronto and United, respectively, Chivas actually did change coaches, bringing Wilmer Cabrera aboard recently. Since the team was without a coach for a full 40 days, there wasn't a ton of moves made by the Goats in that time.
Now, one way for Chivas to charge ahead of their competitors is if Cabrera turns out to be a terrific coach. Though the full assessments on Nelsen and Olsen can't be made at this point, both coaches have shown considerable growing pains in their first head coaching job. Yes, Cabrera will be leading his first MLS side, and he may also prove to be middling to poor at it, but if he can establish himself as a cut above, that could end up giving Chivas the edge in the long run.
All three teams have made changes to their rosters this season, as you would expect. But the strategies used have been considerably different.
D.C. moved quickly and decisively, eschewing the foreign transfer market and instead focussing on finding talent and experience within MLS. They traded for Davy Arnaud, Jeff Parke and most notably Eddie Johnson, and picked up Bobby Boswell and Sean Franklin in the Re-Entry Draft. They also grabbed the MLS rights to Fabian Espindola in the Re-Entry Draft, a player that I know many Chivas fans wanted to see come here, and they may sign a deal with him yet. They picked up the top center back prospect in the SuperDraft in Steve Birnbaum, and also nabbed Nana Attakora.
In short, D.C. opted to upgrade their talent in a major way through the league, and have worked in particular at replenishing their defense. For a team that had some good young talent in 2013 but not enough skill and experience to put it together, it seems more than likely that D.C. will not be the worst team in MLS for the second season in a row.
In contrast, Toronto FC have not made as many moves, but they have unquestionably made the biggest. Along with their gradual policy of signing Homegrown players, something that has started paying off in recent years with players like Doneil Henry and Jonathan Osorio (not technically a HG signing, but a local product), they have made a couple of good trades within the league, picking up full backs Justin Morrow and Jackson. But the big news, of course, is that they have signed three Designated Players, forwards Jermain Defoe and Gilberto and midfielder Michael Bradley.
The result is that TFC are swinging for the fences. It will take time for this group of players to gel, and they still have big holes in the defense that need to be addressed. But if you ask if they have upgraded their talent, no question, they have.
So let's compare that to Chivas. They got rid of a bunch of players, but only brought three in at this point: Mauro Rosales, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, and Adolfo "Bofo" Bautista. Rosales is a player with a lot of experience who should be a major upgrade in attacking midfield, while Jean-Baptiste has some experience and also a lot of room to grow as a player. Bofo is a big name signing, but the impact of his actual skills on the field have divided the fanbase.
Let's put it this way: if I'm comparing Rosales and Bofo to Defoe and Bradley for their on-field contributions, the expectations and likely output from the latter will likely be far greater than the former. That's not to say that Chivas' upgrades won't help the team, as they probably will, but opting for DPs who are younger to (presumably) non-DPs who have more miles means the edge has to go to Toronto.
Toronto entered the league with the best fan atmosphere seen up to that point, and over the years, complete mismanagement of the team has resulted in driving many of those fans away. By signing Defoe and Bradley in particular, and really playing up the marketing angle in Toronto, the front office of that team has issued a statement: we're ready to work hard to bring you back to the games, or to simply make you a fan of this team in the first place.
The other two teams have not been as prominent this offseason. D.C. has not put out a major marketing push so far, but they have something they are looking forward to on the horizon, namely the building of their own soccer-specific stadium in the next few years. Though there is considerable work to do on getting everything ready before ground will be broken on the new stadium, it gives fans and the front office alike a target in the near future to look forward to. Recent history has shown that when a team builds a stadium, having a good team to play in it helps bring paying customers through the turnstiles, especially after the novelty of the new home wears off. I'm sure DCU didn't plan on having a bad team in 2013, but as an organization, they aren't just looking to get better for 2014, they are looking to get back on top around the time they open a brand new stadium.
I'm sure you can follow where I'm going here when it comes to Chivas. As of last season, they had two DPs, Oswaldo Minda and Erick Torres, and since both players remain on the roster, we have to assume for the moment that they remain DPs. There's been no word on whether Rosales or Bofo are DPs, though the word I've gotten is that they aren't. Will Chivas use their third DP slot this season? Will they try to swing for the fences like Toronto? Based on recent history, they won't. But there's still time to make a splash with a big-name player who can actually make the team substantially better.
And while we've been told Chivas is making progress on finding a stadium of their own, there's been absolutely no public word on that since October, and even reports then were still in the murky "We do need to look at different options" variety.
In other words, despite being in a worse stadium situation than D.C. at the moment, in that Chivas don't actually have a home of their own, there is also less progress in finding a new home, let alone trying to build a new stadium, for Chivas. Without that promise of tangibly moving forward in starting the next phase of the club's history, Chivas cannot plan the club with an eye towards the future in the way D.C. can, and efforts to energize the fanbase won't get far with the team playing in the LA Galaxy's home for yet another year.
Breaking it down, it is clear that Toronto and D.C. have made serious efforts to rebuild their rosters and energize their fanbases this offseason. While Chivas have made changes, they have been far more muted than the other two teams, with the obvious exception of changing coaches. On paper, it looks likely that Chivas are far more liable to struggle than the other two clubs in 2014.
However, it must be remembered that this is all on paper, and this is before training camp has even begun. Chivas could yet make moves to help solidify their ambition to rise up the table in 2014, and unforeseen problems could crop up in D.C. or Toronto. But if Chivas USA really want to become a winner, as Jorge Vergara claimed back in November 2012, it looks like they have a lot of work to do in a very short time.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!
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