With the announcement this morning that Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, aka Chelís, has been appointed Chivas USA's coach, I thought it would be a good idea to go over his prior track record in coaching. He's previously been the head coach of three different teams in Mexico, and while the league systems are not the same in Mexico and MLS, you may see some indications that he has what it takes to rebuild a team like Chivas USA.
Sanchez began with Puebla in the 2006 Apertura, when Puebla was in the second division. He came through the club ranks and promoted a number of youth team players who he knew well, and led the club to the league title that season. He guided them to the Primera division after the 2007 Clausura tournament by beating Clausura champ Dorados de Sinaloa.
From there, Puebla maintained a solid position in the Primera division, but finished out of the playoff spots in the 2007 Apertura (14th place), 2008 Clausura (11th place), and the 2008 Apertura (18th place). Chelís was fired midway through that final season, something that isn't unusual in the short-term Mexican league seasons. He was then re-hired for the very next tournament, the 2009 Clausura, where he led Puebla to a 5th place finish in the league and a semifinal place in the playoffs that season. The following season, the 2009 Apertura, Puebla finished 7th in the league, just making it into the playoffs, and were knocked out in the first round by Cruz Azul.
Chelís also led Puebla to a second place showing in the 2010 InterLiga, a short tournament between Mexican Primera teams to determine the Copa Libertadores teams that has been since discontinued. Puebla finished first in their group and advanced to the finals (really the semifinals, but there were two Copa Lib berths up for grabs) against Tecos, but they lost 3-2 at the Home Depot Center.
He also led Puebla in the 2010 SuperLiga, where they played -- guess who -- Chivas USA in group play, beating the Goats 2-1, also at the HDC. Puebla finished second in their group (Chivas USA finished third) and advanced to the knockout stages, losing to the New England Revolution in the semifinals on penalty kicks.
In the 2010 Clausura, Puebla finished 13th and missed on the playoffs for the first time in three tournaments. Sanchez began the 2010 Apertura as Puebla manager, but resigned in August 2010, and Puebla finished that season in 13th place.
From there, he moved on from his hometown club, becoming coach of Guadalajara club Estudiantes Tecos in January 2011. Tecos finished the 2011 Clausura in 15th place, one place behind Puebla. He then began the 2011 Apertura with Tecos, but was fired less than a month into the season, in August 2011. Tecos then had a terrible season, as they went through five more coaches (two were temporary) before being relegated at the end of the 2012 Clausura.
The last club Chelís coached was Ascenso MX (2nd division) side Correcaminos, located in the state of Tamaulipas. As a club that lost to Club Leon in the promotion playoff in the Spring of this year, it appeared they were set to make a run for promotion this season. In the recently concluded 2012 Apertura tournament, Correcaminos finished just outside the playoff positions in 8th place (the Ascenso uses a slightly different playoff format to the first division). Interestingly, one of the team's top scorers in the Apertura was Roberto Nurse, who spent time with Chivas USA in 2008 (and fellow former Chivas USA player Eduardo Lillingston, now with Tecos, finished just behind Nurse in the scoring table).
Although the Apertura campaign has to be considered a disappointment, the team did make a run to the final of the reinstated Copa MX tournament this fall. A tournament between most of the first and second division teams in Mexico that ran basically alongside the league seasons, Correcaminos faced fellow second division side Dorados in the final, but ended up narrowly losing on penalties to the Sinaloa club. Chelis received kudos for his team's run, as well as his sartorial choice on the sideline in one of the matches. Instead of sticking with the club to try and help them win promotion to the Liga MX or to win silverware, however, Sanchez walked away from the team shortly after the Copa MX final.
What can we learn from this history? None of the three teams he's coached can be considered "big clubs" by anybody. In the team where he had the longest involvement, Puebla, he led the team from the second division to the first, and to consecutive playoff berths. Although there was some volatility even in that situation, when he was fired on more than one occasion before returning to the club, he did take a very small club that has not won a first division title in more than 20 years, and gave them some modest success.
You could also say that the signs at Correcaminos, a team with no first division titles and without first division involvement since 1995, indicated that a similar revival was in the works. Chelis has a history of being a player's coach, and if he could get players in MLS to play for him like he has at most of his stops, it could well pay dividends.
Of course, the spell at Tecos does not demonstrate his formula is perfect. He wasn't on the job for long, and Tecos ended up being relegated. Still, it may very well be a blip, as Tecos is a club that is not very well supported in Mexico, and seemed to be in a death spiral for quite some time before the inevitable relegation took place. Is Chivas USA in a similarly bad position as Tecos? That is up for debate. Of course, the Goats do not need to worry about relegation, but the fact that Chivas USA plays in an entirely different league and country means that the strategies Chelís has used in Mexico may not really work in California.
The optimist would say that Sanchez is the kind of coach who could succeed with Chivas USA. As a club with one of the lowest profiles in MLS, it mirrors the kinds of clubs he's worked with in Mexico. Although the style of play is different between Mexico and the U.S./Canada, MLS has become far more receptive to tactical innovations in the past few years in particular. He is used to playing a style of soccer that is effective, something that Chivas USA needs, if they want to start winning in the league. And his personality is entertaining enough that it could bring more attention to a team that really needs it.
On the other hand, we've seen that Chelís is unafraid to walk away from a job. He can be a prickly personality, and we all know that Chivas USA owner Jorge Vergara is of a similar ilk. One of the questions that must be asked is how long can he be expected to coach the team? MLS is a league where success is built on stability, including the tenure of the coach. Can Chelís and Vergara get along for more than a few months? Will the new coach get antsy and quit the club all of a sudden?
At this point, we're at day number one of the Sanchez tenure. We'll have to see where the new coach takes Chivas USA.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!