Where are they now? Ghosts of Chivas USA's past still live in MLS
When Dan Kennedy announced his retirement this week, it was hardly unexpected. It couldn’t have been easy for a one-time unquestioned starter in MLS to have dealt with the supporting role he's occupied since his Chivas USA heyday.
Kennedy is set for a very full second act in his professional life with a role in the LA Galaxy front office. It may make for a slightly uncanny experience at first, as he navigates the StubHub Center corridors once shared uneasily by Galaxy and Chivas staffers, but Kennedy and the league have mostly moved on from one of the more infamous misadventures in league history. Walking around the StubHub Center these days, it's hard to remember Chivas was ever there.
Yet Chivas' legacy lives on. And at a time when we like to fret about whether MLS can maintain its exponential rate of expansion without diluting the player pool, the dispersal of that final Chivas 2014 roster represented a brief moment of concentration, one with effects that are still being played out today. Kennedy's retirement reminds us of that.
On a broader level, though, the life of Chivas USA functions as a kind of parable for prospective MLS owners. A chance U.S. visit by then-Barcelona executive Ferrán Soriano in 2006 exposed him to Chivas USA, and it prompted his thinking on the adapted franchise model that eventually took root with New York City FC. By the time NYCFC became a proposition, however, the Chivas experiment had long soured, and City Football Group would become tired of fending off questions about being another Chivas.
Now LAFC will enter the league in 2018 with not only the LA Galaxy to react against, but with the legacy of Chivas as a cautionary tale. One obvious lesson of Chivas USA was not that it failed to find a distinct identity, but that it leveraged an identity in a way that felt inorganic to many of the Latino fans that were meant to be its base.
Still, despite the other caricature of badly attended Chivas games (remember the huge covering draped over the empty seats?), the club hadhardcore supporters groups. The legacies of the Union Ultras and Black Army 1850 did not end with the demise of the club. The latter group, in particular, initially pledged to stand with whatever road team fans were playing against the Galaxy and now seems resolved into a more proactive identity supporting LAFC.
And of course, historic Chivas figures continue to have a resonant presence in the league, or in U.S. Soccer. Former coach Bob Bradley has been linked with the LAFC job, former head coach Robin Fraser, currently an assistant in Toronto, deserves another shot elsewhere. And then there is the likes of Sacha Kljestan, who became an MVP finalist last season.
Just looking at that final 2014 roster and staff, including the league-appointed president Nelson Rodriguez (now general manager with the Chicago Fire), head coach Wilmer Cabrera (who looks to be turning around the Houston Dynamo), it's plain to see that the direct influence of Chivas USA still lives on.
At some point, only the broader history of the club will remain, and ultimately as the decades go by, the phenomenon of Chivas USA will seem as curious as that of the original Bethlehem Steel, Fall River Marksmen or any other soccer story tied to a place and time. But for now, the personnel of the Chivas USA "survivors" are still an important force in the league, and Kennedy's retirement suggests as good a moment as any to mark that.