Rumors about the potential demise of Chivas USA at the end of this season have been reported on repeatedly in recent weeks by a range of national media outlets.
On Monday, Major League Soccer made it official. Chivas USA is indeed dead, and the league will have 20 teams next year.
There will be a dispersal draft of Chivas' players in the weeks to come. It will take place before the expansion draft for the two 2015 expansion clubs, Orlando City and New York City FC, and I'm told it is likely to take place before December 1.
I'm also told that all club employees will be paid through the end of the year, giving them time to sort out their futures.
(One of those employees is well-known to all of us who have worked with the Union over the years: Cristina Maillo-Belda, who works in the media relations department. Here's hoping she finds another job within MLS soon.)
Along with the dissolution of Chivas USA, MLS announced a realingment of the Eastern and Western Conferences for 2015. Because of the arrival of Orlando and New York, the Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City will move from the East to the West.
It's not particularly kind to two teams that have been flagships in the East over the last few years, when the West has been the far superior conference. But it's the only practical way to keep a two-conference setup with a pair of Eastern teams kicking off next year.
"Today's strong conference becomes tomorrow's weak conference," Garber said on a conference call Monday afternoon. "As we've experienced throughout pro sports history, what is today doesn't necessarily exist tomorrow. The realignment plan is very much about how do we ensure that we have a great competition that minimizes travel, that provides the opportunity for close proximity, teams to further stimulate rivalry, and just to create order."
Here is the statement issued by the league office encompassing all of the news:
LOS ANGELES (October 27, 2014) - Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber announced today a new strategy for the Los Angeles market. Effective immediately, Chivas USA will cease operations. On Thursday, Oct. 30, the League will announce a new MLS Los Angeles club and ownership group. The new club will begin play in 2017.
The decision on Chivas USA was made unanimously by the MLS Board of Governors, after a comprehensive review of the League's strategy for the Los Angeles market. As a result of this decision, the League will play with 20 clubs in the 2015 season.
"As part of our new strategy for Southern California - a major hotbed of soccer participation and fan support - we believe that engaging with a new ownership group which has the resources and local community ties, and a plan for a dedicated soccer-specific stadium, provides us with the best chance for success," said MLS Commissioner Don Garber.
With the addition of Orlando City SC and New York City FC in 2015, MLS will have 20 clubs for the league's 20th season and will feature a new conference alignment. Most notably, the Houston Dynamo and 2013 MLS Cup Champions Sporting Kansas City will move to the Western Conference, creating two 10-team conferences. The 2015 conference assignments are as follows:
Western Conference: Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Sporting Kansas City, Los Angeles Galaxy, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders FC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Eastern Conference: Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew, D.C. United, Montréal Impact, New England Revolution, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, Orlando City SC, Philadelphia Union, Toronto FC
For the 2015 season, the 20 teams will each play 34 games during the regular season. Clubs will play each team in the opposing conference once for five home and five away matches. Clubs will play each of their nine conference opponents at least twice (one home, one away), plus six additional intra-conference games - three home and three away.
MLS will conduct a Dispersal Draft of the Chivas USA roster in the near future. More details regarding the Dispersal Draft will be announced at a later date.
Last month, Sports Illustrated reported the names of the principals in that ownership group: Vietnamese-American venture capitalist Henry Nguyen; Hollywood producer Peter Guber, who is also a co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Golden State Warriors; former NBA executive and analytics expert Tom Penn; and Malaysia-born Vincent Tan, the flamboyant (to put it politely) of second-tier English club Cardiff City.
It's expected that the new ownership group will pay an expansion fee of around $100 million, and it will be tasked with building a soccer stadium as close as possible to central Los Angeles. The StubHub Center, home of Chivas USA and the Los Angeles Galaxy, is 15 miles from the heart of downtown.
Garber said during a conference call Monday afternoon that the preferred site is near the University of Southern California campus.
He also acknowledged that the new team will go in a different direction from Chivas USA when it comes to marketing and building a fan base. When Antonio Cue and Jorge Vergara brought the Chivas brand to MLS, they wanted to make the most of an intentional tie to Mexico's most popular club. But the team and league's effort to attract southern California's vast Mexican-American population did not work out as planned.
"We found out quickly that strategy wasn't effective," Garber said. And sharing a stadium with the Los Angeles Galaxy, he said, "really didn't position the club effectively."
But despite all the past frictions caused by Cue, Vergara and club over the years, Garber express thanks for their contributions to the Chivas USA era.
"The Cue families and Vergara families were very committed to Major League Soccer… and did their best to create a brand that would resonate with fans," Garber said. "While they didn't get everything right, and neither did the league… they did believe in us and they did invest a great deal of money."
Major League Soccer Players Union executive director Bob Foose issued a statement in the wake of the news. You'll note that it is very supportive of the league's decision:
Real change has been needed for many years with respect to the Chivas franchise. Therefore, we are not surprised by today's announcement. The cessation of operations presents obvious challenges for the former Chivas players, and we are working with the league to make their transition to other teams as smooth as possible.
Fortunately, with two new teams starting league play next year, there will be more opportunities for these players to continue to showcase their talents in MLS. We look forward to working with the new franchise when it re-enters MLS.
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.
Whether you are for or against the decision to shut Chivas USA down, we can all agree that the team did have a fan base, and it deserves to be recognized. Garber wrote a letter to those fans that was published on the league's website.
"This was a very difficult decision," Garber wrote. "We want to thank you, the fans, for ten years of unconditional support. We are grateful for your commitment to the club and to the sport."
In his conference call remarks, Garber added that "while there weren't many at the end, there were some fans that were really committed to this club."
Chivas USA president Nelson Rodriguez, who moved to L.A. from MLS headquarters earlier this year, published his own letter to fans on the club's website.
"You have been unconditional in your support of the club, only asking that in return we give our best each and every day," Rodriguez wrote. "History will say many things about Chivas USA, but the one, undeniable truth will be that in every instance - no matter the circumstance, setting or outcome - our resiliency was supported by the indomitable spirit of our most loyal and proud fans."