A new team in Major League Soccer, for now known as Los Angeles FC, was born on Thursday, and while it won't play for more than two full years, it was still a momentous day.
Plenty of buzz. Lots of famous people involved, from various walks of life. Plenty of ambition.
And that's what appears to be truly exciting, from the start. This giant group of owners, 22 at present (though three principles have already been identified), seem to have big plans for what an MLS team in LA can do.
Of course, the old club in LA that just folded, Chivas USA, had an owner who talked a big game, too, in Jorge Vergara. Entering the league with a brashness that he could never follow up with results, promising to hire a coach within a set timeframe then failing to do so, promising multiple times that a stadium in Los Angeles was imminent, and never, ever coming through on it, and perhaps most laughably, promising the team would be in the MLS Cup final within two years, when in the end the team went out of business entirely before that two years was even up — there's reason for skepticism with the new group, even if there is considerable enthusiasm for the new team.
And perhaps it's unfair to LAFC to compare them to Chivas USA. In fact, at no point during the press conference unveiling LAFC were the words "Chivas USA" uttered, and that's unquestionably by design. Even after the press conference, when asked by reporters about Chivas USA, the new owners demurred and tried to run away from the topic as quickly as good manners would allow. Only Commissioner Don Garber spoke about the failed club in any detail, but he likely knows he can't run away from the questions.
So there will be Chivas USA fans upset that this new team has consciously decided to have no connection to the old one. It seems that was the price of making the new owners a reality. And many CUSA fans have already jumped aboard.
Still, the new owners repeatedly appealed to fans of the new team, called them "LA Originals" time and again throughout the day, and have said they want to hear from supporters on everything from the site of the team's permanent home, to the club's ultimate name, branding and colors. Though co-owner Peter Guber told reporters "It's not a plebiscite" when it comes to deciding all of these factors, the obvious interest in drawing in fan opinions to make the team work is admirable, and something that frankly has to be done, among many other aspects, to get the team started on the right foot.
Personally, I'm pleased to hear pretty much all that was said on Thursday, though of course I want to see positive action taking place in the months ahead, too. Certainly, there's more than enough reason to believe that the embryo of a successful MLS team in LA has been formed, and that's very good news.
There's also reason to wonder about the sheer scale of the whole thing. If they can pull it all off — find a site and build a top-notch soccer-specific stadium in about two and a half years, develop infrastructure including a development academy, ties to the USL, either through their own team or an affiliation, and perhaps even some day, a professional women's team, field a successful MLS team that's competing for trophies regularly, and building and sustaining a passionate, loyal fanbase — this club can really be among the very best in MLS very quickly.
But there are a lot of moving parts here, and with 22 owners, and perhaps more to be added, all of those interests may not be able to make it work. Obviously, most of the owners announced on Thursday appear to be involved to invest money and perhaps provide some advising in their area of expertise when necessary, press some flesh from time to time to generate buzz like on Thursday. But rich, successful people don't tend to just drop their money in projects and let whatever will happen just happen. They want to see what will happen with the money, and they'll feel they have power to do things, but many, maybe even all of them, want to make money. It's going to cost a lot to build this team the right way, especially with a brand new stadium in LA thrown into the bargain — are all of these people in this for the long haul?
For fans, it's abundantly clear that this new team is not going to look to Chivas USA as an example in anything, other than what not to do. I sincerely hope the new owners make a real push to make sure CUSA fans are on board with LAFC, and really try to reward them, at the very least emotionally or metaphorically, for giving MLS another go.
But Chivas USA fans must also realize that this club will be run differently. Mostly, that's for the better, but it will mean that some habits and features of the old club may not be done by LAFC, which might ruffle some feathers.
And even more importantly, there will be new fans, and that's a good thing. Yes, there will be CUSA fans moving over to be LAFC fans, but for the new team to work, new fans who were not Chivas USA fans (including, gasp, some past or current LA Galaxy fans) will support the new team, too. The old days aren't coming back, and a tight-knit community will not be the same. But I implore fans from all backgrounds, knowledge bases, and prior fandoms, to join together in a new project. We won't know for some time if it will be a success, but it's time to take a leap of faith on the newest team in town.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!