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FC Tucson Fall Soccer Showcase

'Young, fresh & energetic' Chivas USA squad to take field vs. FC Tucson

Despite on & off-field troubles, team boasts of Torres, Bocanegra & Kennedy

When a team has an awful season, sportswriters will talk of the aftermath with the charitable term “transition.”

This Friday night, FC Tucson will take on a CD Chivas USA side that is in transition.

Despite years of poor performance on the field and poor attendance in the stands, Chivas USA fans had reason to be hopeful when the season started. The team had announced a new coach, José Luis Sánchez Solá, known as El Chelís. The line-up would include U.S. national team player Juan Agudelo and a player loaned from the team’s big brother in Guadalajara, Erick “El Cubo” Torres, who had already impressed for Mexico’s youth national teams.

It didn’t work out for them. El Chelís was out by May despite being endlessly quotable (“This team won’t die by dandruff.”). As the team lost games, the roster saw constant shifts and Chivas USA never found an identity or rhythm. As the season wore on, Agudelo was moved out to New England, while former U.S. national team captain Carlos Bocanegra was moved in. Nothing seemed to work.

The team finished with six wins, one more than they had in their disastrous debut season in 2005.

Even though the team is in a poor stretch right now (they haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 2009), Chivas USA has its fans. Among them, John Sandate, who has a Chivas USA podcast and has written for the fan site The Goat Parade.

“I’ve been a fan since 2005, a supporter since 2007 and a season ticket holder since 2008,” said Sandate, who goes by the name ELAC, an acronym for East LA Chiva. “It’s been a hell of a ride.”

The team came in as a sort of American branch of CD Guadalajara, popularly known as Chivas. The identification with one of the best known Mexican teams generated some interest early on, but Sandate came to his fandom for more local reasons.

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“I don’t even follow Mexican soccer,” he said. “The draw for me was its identity. It wasn’t suburban soccer moms. It was fresh and brash, not candy coated.”

In other words, it was not the Los Angeles Galaxy, the team Chivas USA shares a stadium with.

Still, Sandate admits that the close association with the Mexican version of Chivas (a team with dedicated detractors as well as hardcore fans. Think Dallas Cowboys) may impede the growth of the team.

“All it’s done is faltered,” he said. “That Chivas de Guadalajara brand divides the Latino community.”

It isn’t just that identification with Chivas de Guadalajara that has caused controversy for the squad. Earlier this year, the team’s management was featured on an episode of HBO’s Real Sports for allegations that they discriminate against non-Hispanic players and staff.

Despite the reputation as a team that would rather field Mexican players from the mothership team, 20 of 28 players on their squad are American.

“It’s the most American MLS franchise,” said Sandate. “There are more American born players on this team than any other MLS team.”

When naming standouts for the team, however, one can't avoid Mexican player Erick “El Cubo” Torres. The 20-year old scored seven goals in 15 appearances for the squad. His style of play has earned him comparisons to Javier “Chicharito” Hernández and is likely a future prospect for the Mexican national team.

“He’s a skinny and scrawny kid that doesn’t look intimidating, but he knocked out some good goals. He’s a dangerous player,” said Sandate. “He needs a strike partner.”

Sandate also has praise for American players like Eric Avila and Tristan Bowen, who he refers to as “dynamic and strong.”

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Despite all of the problems with the team, one thing that they have never lacked is quality goal keeping. U.S. national team goalkeepers Brad Guzan and Zach Thornton have both put time between the pipes for the team. Their current keeper is Dan Kennedy, who managed a 1.74 goals against average over 31 games and kept the team in a lot of games when things were going wrong elsewhere on the field.

He was picked for the All-Star team in 2012 but hasn’t gotten looks from the national team yet.

“Kennedy is one of the top goal keepers in the league,” Sandate said. “People forget about him because of the team he plays for.”

One player that Sandate hasn’t gotten a look at yet is former Pima College and FC Tucson standout Donny Toia. Toia has been on trial with Chivas USA in the off season and is expected to make an appearance on Friday.

In all, Sandate says Chivas is “young, fresh and energetic” and plays “free flowing, open soccer.” They’ll have a chance to show that to Tucson on Friday night.

FC Tucson’s Fall Showcase match will be on Friday at 7 p.m. at the North Stadium at Kino Sports Complex. You can purchase tickets from FCTucson.com.

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CD Chivas USA

CD Chivas USA forward Erick 'El Cubo' Torres