I wrote a few weeks ago that the idea of a hiatus for Chivas USA was the best possible solution to Major League Soccer’s biggest problem. But a good idea requires proper execution. At the time, little was known about the plan, including, importantly, the identities of the new ownership group that will be responsible for bringing LA2 back to life.
Yesterday on Fox Sports’ Champions League pre-match show, Grant Wahl ended the mystery in revealing the owners who will spend more than $100 million to buy the second MLS franchise in Los Angeles. Wahl provided four names: Henry Nguyen, Peter Guber, Tom Penn, and, most notably, a certain Vincent Tan. You may know him as the infamous owner of Cardiff City.
Let’s recount Vincent Tan’s sins, shall we? After purchasing Cardiff in 2010, he promptly pumped funds into the club, expanding their stadium and training ground, and in 2013 they reached the top flight for the first time in five decades. But his success was overshadowed by the fact that he changed the club’s kits from blue to red.
The point has been made that Cardiff, with more than a century of history, is not Chivas USA, whose decade-old brand will change regardless of the new ownership. But at the very least the color change suggests that Tan is ignorant or uncaring when it comes to the concerns of supporters. Last season, he fired popular manager Malky Mackay. It only later came out that Mackay sent several racist and homophobic text messages, but at the time Tan was the villain in the story.
Tan is not an ideal owner, and because soccer fans are so familiar with his work, he’s gotten the most attention. Luckily, he is not alone.
Tan is just a minority partner, one of four names known to be in the ownership group. Peter Guber is a Hollywood executive and a part-owner of both the Los Angeles Dodgers. Guber’s reputation shines the brightest among the group’s members. With the Golden State Warriors, Guber has helped the team acquire land in densely packed San Francisco for a new arena. If LA’s second team is to succeed, they will need a new stadium in a better location than the Stubhub Center. Wahl’s story says that two sites in LA have been targeted. Guber’s Golden State partner, Joe Lacob, said that “he cares more than any owner about the team, the image of the team and what the fans think.”
Tom Penn made his name in basketball, first helping bring an NBA franchise to Memphis. He served as an assistant general manager for the Grizzlies from 2000-2007, before moving to the same role with the Portland Trail Blazers. He is noted for his expertise of the NBA’s complicated salary cap, and currently works as an analyst for ESPN. It’s unclear how his talents will translate to MLS.
The least-known member of the group is Henry Nguyen, who happens to be the majority partner. He’s a Vietnamese-American businessman, whose father was a member of the South Vietnam government before it fell in 1975. After going to medical school and working for Goldman Sachs, he became a partner for a venture capitalist firm in Vietnam. Last year, he gained attention for bringing that country its first McDonald’s. He will undoubtedly lend business acumen to the group, but his ties to sports are minimal. A 2005 Washington Post profile says that he roots for that city’s NFL team, but that’s about it.
Vincent Tan’s reputation precedes him. But it’s unclear how large his role will be in the MLS franchise, and fans should not let Tan overshadow the many good things about this ownership group. They have about two and a half years to get things right.