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Once Galaxy mates, now Chivas' chiefs

1/5/2011

Robin Fraser and Greg Vanney have been talking soccer since they first played together with the Galaxy during Major League Soccer's inaugural season almost 15 years ago.

It led, Vanney says, to this last week:

“Robin called me, and he said, 'It's go time! It's time to go! Here it is! We've been waiting for this!”

And so Fraser and Vanney, two of the finest defenders ever to take the field during an MLS match, are realizing a dream: Putting into practice the ideals and strategies they've been mulling over most of their adult lives.

Fraser, Chivas USA's new head coach, and Vanney, his new chief assistant, were introduced to L.A.'s soccer media Wednesday afternoon at Home Depot Center -- it was more reunion; so many of us covered them with the Galaxy -- and offered an outline of the blueprint they've been formulating all these years, the basis for their plan to turn the stumbling Goats into winners.

“We're going right into this together knowing exactly what we're looking to do,” Vanney said. “We have a pretty good plan that we think will be successful.”

It's all about teamwork, and if it's not the most revolutionary concept, it is among the most elusive.

“I'm really emphasizing team,” Fraser said, “because I think, certainly in my experience, not only in this league but looking at the best teams in the world, they are actually teams. It's not about individuals, it's about the team that moves the best as a team -- offensively, defensively, the most cohesively. Those are the teams that get the results that you want.”

It's about getting the players on the same page, defining their roles, teaching them how to make adjustments -- how to solve problems -- on the field.

“We'll be a thoughtful team,” Fraser said. “We'd like to have it where everything makes sense, and there's a reason and a purpose to everything we do. I see us being the type of team that is going to be successful because of our adherence to team ideas and team philosophies. … The best teams are very cohesive. You can see when they move, it's almost like it's well-choreographed in the way they play.”

It will take time to build a foundation, Fraser acknowledges -- interim GM Jose Domene says Chivas management will be patient, that “we want Robin to stay for many, many years” -- and it will start, tentatively, on Jan. 20, when the Goats begin preparations for the 2011 season.

“I really think it's going to be a process … to start to build this foundation, this base,” Fraser said. “All it is, really, is the ability to adhere to a vision and get the team to understand what this vision is and the collective effort that we're looking for.”

Fraser saw such a collective effort at Real Salt Lake. He joined Jason Kreis' staff in 2007 and played the major role in creating a culture at the club that led to the 2009 MLS Cup title and a long stretch as the league's best club in 2010.

“I went into that job saying I want to be a head coach in this league, for sure,” Fraser said. “It was absolutely the best assistant coaching job in the league, by far. Because Jason Kreis is so collaborative in how his approach is to everything that it gave me, I think, a much wider range of experience than the average assistant coach.

“We were involved in all the decision-making, in everything, from training sessions to player acquisitions to everything in between. Game-day preparation. It really was the absolutely perfect place to step in as an assistant coach and learn about the league.”

Fraser, who was born in Jamaica and moved to Miami when he was 11, had his “A” coaching license before he was out of his 20s, and he'd been coaching youth teams since he left his teens. An elegant, cerebral central defender -- he's in the conversation on the finest backliner in MLS annals -- he was like a coach when he was on the field.

“I certainly felt like, late in my career, I had put together a lot of thoughts about the game,” he said. “I found myself being extremely frustrated with a lot of the young players coming into the league, late in my career. I felt a lot of them had been allowed to slide because they were good players. I just felt there was a lot of teaching still to be done.

“I knew that I wanted to get into coaching. When the opportunity came to go to Real Salt Lake, I jumped at it, because I knew that, ultimately, this [being a head coach of an MLS club] is where I wanted to be. As a player, you have ideas about the way you think things could be done and should be done. RSL was a great testing ground for me to see if I knew what I was talking about -- or what I was thinking about.

“I've been extremely pleased to see how things turned out there. It really confirmed a lot of things I thought as a player late in my career.”

He always had in mind that Vanney, 36, would join him. The former UCLA star, who started his career as a left back, then moved to the center in his later years, was a true rookie in MLS's first season. Fraser, a veteran, found a kindred spirit.

“From day one,” Fraser said, “[Vanney] was much more insightful than the average 21-year-old. And we got to be very close at the Galaxy. … He was a young player that 'got it.' And he 'got it' at a very young age. He was very curious about the game.”

What kind of things did they talk about?

“Style of play. Things that were important. Approach to the game,” said Vanney, who has been the director of coaching at the RSL's development academy in Casa Grande, Ariz. “A lot of things we talked about were respect and training habits and the way players approach game, working together as a unit. We talked about things we've seen that have been successful and not so successful in this league.”

For the past “five or 10 years,” Fraser said, “we've talked about coaching a professional soccer team together. And now the opportunity's come about, I definitely was going to jump at it to get him on board. I think he's developed a really phenomenal soccer mind. And it's important to have him around.”

Said Vanney: “It's something we've talked about for many years. … I know Robin's qualities as a coach. I knew it was just a matter of time [before he got a head-coaching job]. He's an intelligent guy, very articulate and very clear on what he wants to accomplish as a coach.

“I knew that one of these interview people would realize what they have in front of them, and they would actually go with it. We knew it was a matter of time. We're excited that it's this club in particular, in Chivas, because of the tradition and history [of the Chivas brand]. There's some challenges in front of us, but we're excited about those.”