Don Garber helped usher Chivas USA into Major League Soccer a decade ago, so it was not hard to discern a bit of sadness in his voice Monday as he discussed the decision to shut down the team.
Chivas USA, which struggled on the field and at the gate for most of its 11 seasons in MLS, ceased to exist Monday. The league announced that the team, based in Los Angeles, would end operations “effective immediately” and that its players would be made available in a dispersal draft, probably before the end of November.
Garber, the league’s commissioner since 1999, lamented the effect of the decision on the team’s players, officials and fans in an open letter posted on the league’s website. But in a telephone interview Monday afternoon, he said, “It’s the right decision for the league.”
The shutdown was not unprecedented; Garber oversaw the closing of the league’s teams in Miami and Tampa, Florida, after the 2001 season.
But now, perhaps more so than he could then, Garber stressed the positives in Monday’s somber news. The league has doubled in size since the 2001 shutdowns reduced the league’s membership to 10 teams; next year, MLS will begin its 20th season with 20 clubs.
MLS plans to add two more teams in 2017, expanding in Atlanta and returning to Los Angeles under a new, deep-pocketed ownership group that Garber said had everything the league had sought in a buyer: local residency, the resources and connections to build a stadium and the commitment to rebrand the team for a wider audience. (MLS has another team, the Galaxy, in Los Angeles.)
According to a person in the league with knowledge of the sale, the new owners agreed to pay more than $100 million for Chivas USA. The group will be led by a Vietnamese venture capitalist, Henry Nguyen, and will include several limited partners with experience in sports management: Peter Guber, a movie producer who owns parts of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Golden State Warriors; Tom Penn, an ESPN basketball analyst and a former Portland Trail Blazers executive; and Vincent Tan, a Malaysian businessman who owns the Welsh soccer club Cardiff City.
The league and the new owners are scheduled to announce their plans for the market, including a new stadium for the rebranded and renamed team, at a news conference in Los Angeles on Thursday.
“Ultimately, there is a silver lining to this whole announcement,” Garber said, “and that is after many years of struggling to embark on a strategy we now have the tools in place to turn this around very quickly.”
MLS took control of Chivas USA in February by buying out its Mexican owner, Jorge Vergara, and a league executive ran the team this season. Chivas completed its schedule Sunday with a 1-0 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes but missed the playoffs after finishing seventh in the nine-team Western Conference.
The league said that it had met with 15 potential buyers who were interested in acquiring the Chivas franchise and that it had begun talks with Nguyen’s group in April. In September, Garber confirmed that the league was considering shutting down Chivas USA for at least one season to give its then-unidentified new owners a clean slate.
The league consulted with its players union before shuttering the team on Monday, and the union’s executive director, Bob Foose, released a statement in which he largely agreed with the move to address the Chivas situation. Foose also said the entry of expansion teams in New York and Orlando, Florida, next season could give players who lost their jobs on Monday an opportunity to remain in the game.
“The Los Angeles market can and will successfully support two MLS teams, and we are confident that the new franchise will learn from the mistakes made by Chivas, and will be successful in every way,” Foose said in a statement.
c.2014 New York Times News Service