By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Jul 25, 2013) US Soccer Players – Though I’ve already seen attempts to downplay the reach of HBO Sports, let’s not be silly here. Tuesday night was a ridiculous moment for Chivas USA and Major League Soccer. Called out by major media in a well known forum over charges that the club practiced discrimination as they attempted to impose the Chivas Guadalajara model on the MLS club, Chivas USA didn’t sufficiently respond and MLS itself barely responded at all.
Someone needs to explain to the club and the league that anything done since the allegations doesn’t answer the situation that led to those allegations. They also need to take a step back from the league’s long-term policy of trying to publicly ignore any news that doesn’t fit their script or their purpose.
MLS could’ve taken the tough choice to get out in front of reports of a team operating in a way that isn’t in the best interest of Major League Soccer, much less laws against discrimination. Instead, they chose the short statement and ‘refusal to comment over pending litigation.’
Hey, if that’s the route you choose to take, fine. But, just like the accusations concerning Chivas USA’s hiring and retention practices, there are potential consequences. For MLS, this was probably always going to be a loss, but they could’ve salvaged something by making the tough decision to address an ugly issue publicly.
Chivas USA chose to put director of soccer Juan Francisco Palencia on camera, but only for 15 minutes that became less when a Chivas USA staffer stopped the interview. The club decided to take another shot at media management on Wednesday. In a press statement, Chivas USA defended itself, denied all accusations of discrimination, and expressed ‘disappointment’ in “an incomplete and one-sided story in order to damage the image of Chivas USA and the hard working individuals who are part of our community.”
Later that day, the club sent out another press release with the title “Developing professional players, a goal for Chivas USA Academy”. Chivas USA is one of the only MLS clubs regularly sending out its own editorials, so the timing might have been coincidental. Yet, it does draw a direct comparison to HBO’s Real Sports portrayal of the academy’s focus with how Chivas USA sees its system.
Chivas USA quotes its director of the club’s youth academy Sacha van der Most: “At other clubs in California the objective is to create players to go to college, but here we create players to become professionals.” The press release describes the academy as “structured to have a player grow from the U-13 all the way to the professional level. This path helps the players run up and down their teams and have more experience on the field.”
Part of the problem for Chivas USA is the club exists to be different. From day one, this is an organization drawing a sharp contrast between itself and the rest of MLS. In an article for LA Observed, Phil Wallace – a former Chivas USA consultant – explains that in first-hand detail. There’s no point in rehashing Wallace’s piece except to stress that Major League Soccer had to understand from the beginning what Chivas USA was intended to accomplish within the structure of this league.
That’s what makes Major League Soccer’s relative silence so glaring. It’s nothing new. From the outset, MLS never did enough publicly to address the fit of Chivas USA within the framework already established for the USA and Canada first division. For a league still enforcing the reserve clause, imposing roster limitations and guidelines that severely limit what any individual club can do differently, and altering the specifics as needed, Chivas USA demanded a better explanation both within MLS and for the public. From all appearances, the club got neither.
What that created is a situation where Chivas USA’s operations can’t be treated in isolation. Single-entity shouldn’t just be about restraining the market for players and no truly major league gets to focus only on the flattering stories. The Chivas USA situation demands broader accountability, and the North American soccer audience should expect more from its league.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him email@example.com.
More from J Hutcherson: