Saturday, December 25, 2010
2010: Sol sets ... and Chivas' leader
By Scott French
Our countdown of 2010's top 10 soccer stories and newsmakers -- from a Southern California slant -- continues.
Stories/No. 7: Sol starts a trend
The L.A. Sol set the standard in Women's Professional Soccer's inaugural campaign in almost every regard, with the league's most professional organization, the most sponsorship and merchandising revenue, the best fan experience (in the league's best stadium) -- and, especially, on the field.
The Sol's lone season was a memorable one because it included Brazilian star Marta.
The Sol, featuring Brazilian superstar Marta and local heroine Shannon Boxx (Redondo Beach/South Torrance HS), went 12-3-5 in 2009, easily capturing WPS's regular-season title. They likely would have won the championship if not for a controversial red card not quite a half-hour into the final.
The team would never play another game. The team folded on Jan. 28 after negotiations with a potential new ownership group fell apart.
It began a trend in the league, and not a good one. Saint Louis Athletica, which posted the second-best regular-season record in year one, dissolved just six weeks into the 2010 campaign, and Bay Area-based FC Gold Pride -- winner of the 2010 title with Marta and Boxx leading arguably the finest women's team ever assembled -- packed up shop in November.
A month later, the Chicago Red Stars went on hiatus, with plans to return in 2012. The Washington Freedom, the lone survivor from the late, great 2001-03 Women's United Soccer Association, nearly went under, too.
What's left? A six-team league, entirely on the East Coast for 2011. The San Francisco-based front office has been all but scuttled, and survival remains uncertain, perhaps unlikely. Yet there are groups angling to join in 2012 and beyond, including one that wants to put a team in Orange County.
The Sol lost somewhere around $3 million in 2009. Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owned half the team and paid about 90 percent of the bills, pulled out -- as planned, it turned out -- after the first season, and Blue Star LLC, a partnership that included L.A. Blues owner Ali Mansouri and Australian actor Anthony LaPaglia, couldn't afford to run things on its own.
The league took control of the club in November 2009 and had a new owner, never identified, all but signed, sealed and delivered. That owner pulled out in mid-January, and the Sol was dead a week later.
Boxx said she was saddened, but not shocked.
“We have such a great market, and our community was behind us. We had such great fans …,” she said. “And now to realize we’re leaving L.A. is sad, but it’s also professional sports. And it’s the way it works, so you say OK.”
Newsmakers/No. 7: Antonio Cué
The most approachable, low-key owner of any pro team in L.A. -- in America? -- has to be Antonio Cué, who co-owns Chivas USA with Jorge Vergara, the nutritional-supplements billionaire whose holdings include the Goats' parent club, Club Deportivo Guadalajara.
Antonio Cue, co-owner of Chivas USA, is largely responsibly for the club's return to respectability.
Vergara is the mostly silent partner in this relationship. It is Cué you see in and around Home Depot Center, greeting fans and media like friends -- and it is Cué, for the most part, who has taken on responsibility for building Chivas USA back to respectability.
The club's managing partner has cleaned house. Gone following Chivas' worst season since its horrid 2005 debut are president Shawn Hunter (resigned to be closer to his family in Denver), VP of soccer operations Stephen Hamilton (resigned to pursue other opportunities) and head coach Martin Vasquez (dismissed after refusing to reassign an assistant coach).
Cué has restored himself to the club presidency, is taking the lead role on a variety of business initiatives -- designed to bolster club sponsorship and build its static fanbase -- and is assisting interim GM Jose Luis Domene on securing Juan Carlos Osorio's signature on a coaching contract.
The club is making something of a new start, Cué acknowledges, and there is plenty of work to be done. The Goats finished last in the Western Conference with a roster short on talent and depth, and a half-filled HDC -- which was hardly full even when the Goats were playing a bracing, winning style of soccer in seasons past -- was disappointing, even given the club's on-field struggles.
The future, it is hoped, will bring a new stadium (somewhere in L.A.), a playoff victory (the Goats have never progressed beyond the first round) and a long-awaited MLS Cup trophy. The foundation Cué has begun building the last few months could be decisive.