If ever there was a player to subtitle his season with Chivas USA, "The curious case of..." it would be Mauro Rosales.
The 33-year-old joined the Goats in the offseason from the Seattle Sounders ahead of the 2014 season, a savvy move that seemed like a no-brainer.
And the Designated Player was a fixture in CUSA's lineup, missing just three games across all competitions while he was with the team. Oh, and he led the team in assists.
But all of that came to a screeching halt in mid-August, as Rosales was suddenly traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps for Nigel Reo-Coker, another experienced midfielder but certainly not a playmaker and not even a player who had been playing much in MLS in 2014.
The fans' #WilmerOut campaign against Chivas head coach Wilmer Cabrera reached its height around the time of the trade, as trading away the only healthy playmaker on the team, on a team that struggled so mightily to score even with him on the team, looked to be a terrible move in context for CUSA.
Still, while there's been no "smoking gun" of sorts, in hindsight it seems clear that Rosales and Cabrera butted heads and could no longer work together. In the aftermath of the trade, Cabrera's son left a Jonathan Klinsmann-esque note on instagram celebrating Rosales' departure in the face of fans complaining about the trade. Reading between the lines, the fact that Chivas had no obligatory, "we thank Mauro for his service with the club" note in their release about the trade was another potential tip-off. And then Rosales, while never complaining publicly about his time with Chivas, has bent over backwards complimenting the Whitecaps since he joined their club, including as recently as last week.
The mystery that endures is how and why the relationship broke down, and perhaps who is more responsible for its deterioration. In the end, we may never find out what happened behind the scenes.
Here were Rosales' statistics with Chivas USA:
|Games Played||Games Started||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Shots||SOG||Yellow Cards||Red Cards|
|MLS Regular Season||21||16||1,557||0||8||21||4||1||0|
|U.S. Open Cup||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
Beyond the shock and intrigue of Rosales' departure, what can we say about his actual play with CUSA? As I noted, Rosales led the team in assists, by a wide margin (second to his eight assists was Marvin Chavez's three), but that was perhaps a bit misleading -- Rosales had five of those assists in two games (the season opener against the Chicago Fire and a July game against Vancouver), which to be fair were both wins for Chivas.
But even though he paced the team in setting up teammates, there has to be some disappointment concerning Rosales' offensive production nonetheless. Given his experience in MLS, he did notch eight assists in 2013 with Seattle as well, but he also chipped in four goals that season. In 2014, Rosales didn't score any competitive goals, his only tally for CUSA coming off a wicked free kick in preseason. In his time with the Sounders, he never got fewer than three league goals in a season, so the fact that he couldn't score for such a goal-starved team was lackluster.
But was that an indication of his waning skills? Maybe time was catching up to him? I would argue no on that front, since he was essentially a fixture in the lineup and missed just one game that I recall from injury issues.
No, what limited Rosales on the attacking end more was his effort on the defensive end, a surprising development that was good for the team effort, but limited his contributions on the side of the ball where he truly thrived.
In that sense, Rosales' work in tracking back and trying to lock down the midfield on his side of the field likely helped a defense that needed all kinds of help, as their poor goals against numbers indicated, and should be celebrated for his effort in sublimating his strengths for the team's needs. In that respect, he's right up there with Eric Avila, who played half of the season as a defender for the first time in his career, in sacrificing for the team.
Maybe there was little choice for Cabrera but to give Rosales so many defensive responsibilities, and the Argentine worked hard every game. That's partly why fans were so appreciative of his contributions -- he may have sacrificed some scoring, but he gave his all on both sides of the ball, every game.
This is speculation, but that might have been why a rift developed in the end between Rosales and Cabrera, who knows. Regardless of what happened, Cabrera moved on before his first season with the Goats was even up, and he seemed to settle quickly as an auxiliary playmaker on a team built around Pedro Morales in the middle. He seems happy, and due to the Whitecaps re-signing him (no doubt as a non-Designated Player) last week, they seem happy to have him. And don't forget that the player Chivas got for Rosales, Reo-Coker, essentially revived his prospects in MLS with a strong final two months of the season. He wasn't the playmaker Chivas needed, but he was the on-field general the team lacked all season.
The case of Mauro Rosales and Chivas USA was curious indeed, but on the field he appeared to give effort every outing. He did produce, but it wasn't a flawless season. But what CUSA player could truly say he had a perfect season in 2014?
What do you think? Leave a comment below!