Seattle Sounders FC faces Chivas USA for the last time this season — and possibly for the last time ever — Saturday afternoon at CenturyLink Field.
Chivas became Major League Soccer’s 11th franchise in 2004, attempting to spread the popularity of the Chivas Guadalajara brand from Mexico to Southern California.
The idea worked for a while, but recent seasons became difficult on the field and in the stands. Finally in February the league bought the franchise from owner Jorge Vergara with the intent of finding a new owner who would rebrand the franchise in a new home closer to downtown Los Angeles.
That new owner hasn’t yet been identified, and that has raised the possibility that the franchise could go dark in 2015, leaving the MLS with 20 teams, including expansion newcomers Orlando City and New York City FC. Even if the franchise plays on, it is unlikely to do so under the Chivas crest and colors.
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If it seems that such uncertainly might cause the present team to just play out the season, Sounders coach Sigi Schmid has a different take.
“They’re playing for their jobs,” he said. “They’re auditioning. Is the team going to go on hiatus next year? These guys are trying to impress other coaches around the league, because if they do go on hiatus, where do those players go? How will they get dispersed? There’s still a lot of motivating factors for every player on their team as they step on the field. Maybe their cohesion as a team hasn’t been all that they want it to be, but in terms of players and individuals being motivated, there’s a lot of things that should motivate them.”
The Sounders also should have their share of motivation. Seattle has dropped back-to-back games — being outscored by a combined 7-2 — and has been caught by the Galaxy atop the Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference races with five games to go.
“Obviously, after losing two games we need to pick ourselves up,” midfielder Lamar Neagle said. “It doesn’t really matter who we’re playing against, we need to bring our A game, especially (because) we’re tied with L.A. It’s getting down to crunch time, and we need to get all of the points we can, especially at home.”
Schmid was coaching the Galaxy when Chivas was created as a co-tenant for what is now StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.
“They came in with a big drumroll when they came into the league,” he said. “Everybody thought it was going to be a really, really good idea. And then they had a good run, a good period of time there, with Preki primarily as their coach when they got into the playoffs on a pretty consistent basis. And they were a difficult team to play against.”
Chivas remained a competitive team through 2009, when the Sounders joined the league. However, they haven’t had a winning record since. The current team arrives with an 11-game winless streak and is tied with Montreal for last place in the 19-team league.
Their decline on the pitch has been accompanied by an even steeper drop in attendance. The Goats are last with an announced average of 6,942 per home game — less than half that of the next-lowest club.
Schmid believes metro Los Angeles is capable of supporting two clubs — but perhaps not in the same stadium.
“I think you’ve got to have a little bit of its own identity,” he said. “What’s happening in New York … with New York FC and what they’ve got with Red Bull. L.A. probably needs the same sort of thing. They need their own stadium, their own identity, their own brand.”
The Sounders will play in the 2015 Desert Diamond Cup preseason tournament, Feb. 18-28 at Tucson, Arizona. … Preki, the former Chivas USA coach who also played for the Tacoma Stars, has been named USL Pro coach of the year. His Sacramento Republic FC will meet Harrisburg City on Saturday for the USL Pro championship.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808