Chivas USA enter tonight’s game with a guillotine hanging above its head. It’s been known for a while that the name will be gone by 2015, when Major League Soccer offloads the club to new ownership. But a report tonight has the league taking even more drastic measures. According to Brian Strauss of Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles club may not play in 2015, as new owners figure out the all-important rebrand.
It does not look good for the league to have a team go on “hiatus.” That’s the sort of thing a minor league club does before folding for good. But, if the league is committed to succeeding with a second club in LA (and with an ownership group willing to pay $100 million, it seems that they are), this route has several benefits:
- Rather than rushing in a re-brand within the six months between now and next season, this gives the new owners time to get it right. A rushed and failed rebrand would do LA2 no good. Because of the time constraints, worries were beginning to grow that the Chivas name would stick around for another lame-duck year.
- The new owners will also have more time to find a possible temporary home. Reports last month announced that Chivas would remain at the Stubhub Center for 2015. By all accounts, it’s a good soccer-specific stadium. But LA2 will struggle so long as they played in the Galaxy’s shadow, in the Galaxy’s house. LA1 has history and an established fanbase, but it can be beaten when it comes to location. There are venues within Los Angeles capable of housing an MLS team for a year or two before a dedicated stadium is built.
- It rids MLS of an eyesore. Even under the best of circumstances, it was going to be nigh impossible for LA2 to draw well next year, with the Chivas baggage so fresh. The Goats have had record low attendance this season. This is a small thing, but the removal of a poorly-performing club will look good on MLS’s attendance figures. Consider that this year, removing Chivas would lift the league’s average attendance from 18,882 to 19,510 (as of this past Monday). Without Chivas, MLS is almost guaranteed to average better than 20,000 fans per game for the first time in its history next year.
- It creates a 20-team league. At 18 clubs, MLS scheduling was as simple as a double round robin. Things got complicated with 19, which required teams to have bye weeks throughout the year. With an even number of teams, and two conferences of 10, scheduling is simpler, and the need for midweek games (which are always poor draws) is reduced.
- It eases the burden of adding two teams at once. NYCFC and Orlando will need players, and the prospect of a double expansion draft had some teams fretting about losing their talent. LA2’s players will need a place to play, and via loans or another mechanism they can help fill the twenty rosters. Likewise, the new ownership in Los Angeles will have a full year to find talent, perhaps in the form of a DP who can draw fans.
In a perfect world, Major League Soccer would not enter its third decade with a team in limbo. The Chivas USA experiment, which will have lasted 10 seasons, was a failure on a number of levels. A much younger league took a gamble on Jorge Vergara and the power of Mexican imagery that has not paid off. But the solution the league seems prepared to implement is a mature decision, and a necessary one for the long-term hopes of a second team in Los Angeles.