After Chivas USA disbands, new MLS franchise emerges in Los Angeles

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The owners and investors of the new Los Angeles Football Club. Photo by Avishay Artsy. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Major League Soccer officials have announced that a new franchise will begin playing in Los Angeles in 2017. The team replaces Chivas USA, which disbanded this week after a difficult 10 years.

For now, the new L.A. team is known simply as Los Angeles Football Club (the “working title,” in Hollywood parlance). The league said it wants fans to help pick the name, logo and colors of the team. So there’s a lot left to figure out. Among the big questions: How will it be different than the popular L.A. Galaxy, one of the most decorated clubs in the MLS?

“That’s going to be their challenge,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said. “They’re going to be here, operating in a market with a very successful team. And they’ve got to find a way to create a new brand, a new identity — differentiate themselves on and off the field; think about what communities they might want to go into that might be interested in their narrative — and I’m absolutely convinced they’ll find a way to differentiate themselves.”

Soccer balls were distributed to celebrate LA’s new soccer team. Photo by Avishay Artsy.

Prior Owners To Blame?

The ownership group for the new franchise is led by veteran film producer Peter Guber, who also co-owns the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Dodgers. His partners include NBA great Magic Johnson, former soccer star Mia Hamm and her husband, former Dodgers player Nomar Garciaparra. Motivational speaker Tony Robbins and sports-executive-turned-NBA-analyst Tom Penn are also owners, along with Vietnamese entrepreneur Henry Nguyen. Nguyen is resoundingly upbeat about a second team in L.A., and he made it clear that this is a clean break from Chivas USA.

“Chivas is really something that we had no part of, and we understand, sort of, its collective history here and we’ve studied it and tried to learn something from it,” Nguyen said. “But we look at this as, we are a brand new, bright and shiny club. That allows us, really, a great runway to just, to set the sky as the limit. We’re not forgetting about the heritage of soccer in this community. We’re just starting afresh from our own new timeline.”

Chivas USA was founded in 2004 as a subsidiary of the popular Mexican team Club Deportivo Guadalajara. The goal was to bring in all the Mexican soccer fans in LA, but that never panned out, and recent years have been marred by high management turnover and racial discrimination lawsuits.

“The owners weren’t invested heavily into the [MLS],” said Luis Bueno, who covered Chivas USA for years for Like many, he blames the ownership team of Jorge Vergara and Antonio Cué for Chivas’ poor performance. “They didn’t spend the proper amount of money to bring in high-level players, and once the marketing fell apart, the ownership fell apart, the fans turned away and the last couple of seasons they were drawing 5000, 6000, or 7000 fans, which was really kind of unacceptable.”

MLS bought the team in February with the intention of eventually selling it to new owners. Instead, it played its final game last Sunday and failed to make the playoffs.

“I think it’s a shame what happened with the club,” said Leandro Barrera, a 23-year-old Argentine forward who played for Chivas USA. “I think this year Chivas did things well, and we ended well, soccer-wise, and everything else is up to the directors.”

Chivas Fans Disappointed, Hopeful

“To be honest with you, it was one of the saddest days of my life,” said Chivas fan Julio Ramos, who was at the final game. “You know, when you put too much time into something, and 10 years, working around the calendar, it was just a day full of emotions. And I was happy to be there, you know, to be there until they die, like we always said.”

Ramos had been a Chivas supporter since day one. His kids grew up going with him to games. He helped lead the most vocal fan group, the Union Ultras, along with Jose Salcedo.

“Oh definitely, I couldn’t miss it,” Salcedo said about attending the team’s final game. “I could probably miss my own funeral but not that game.”

Salcedo and his fellow fans have been saying for years that their team needed its own stadium. At the SuperClasico a year ago, the head-to-head rivalry matchup between the Galaxy and Chivas, Galaxy fans easily outnumbered Chivas fans four-to-one. The MLS says there will eventually be a new stadium built for the new team in the greater L.A. area, but they haven’t specified where or when that might be. They do say they’ve already raised the money to build it. But given the problems AEG has had in finding a location for a new NFL stadium, this may not be as easy as it sounds. Salcedo says he’s looking forward to seeing what happens next.

“We’re happy,” he said. “We’re happy that the league bought the team. I mean, it hurts that they’re gonna take our club. They’re gonna take our name. But on the other hand, we’re happy because we’re gonna have a new club, we’re gonna have a new ownership and hopefully they’ll learn from all our mistakes, and we’ll make it bigger.”

Salcedo said he and the other Union Ultras will regroup — and by 2017, they’ll be ready to cheer on a new team.

Listen to Avishay Artsy’s story from last year: “For Chivas USA fans, no place feels like home”