Yesterday, Scott French over at ESPN LA published an article following Chivas USA's 2-1 victory over the Portland Timbers this past weekend. French's angle on the article concerned the road form of the team, and with five games in, a discernible split exists: Chivas have three losses at home, and two wins on the road. Although this pattern is becoming more stark as the sample size grows, I'd like to see what Chivas do this month before really honing in on the home-road split.
Still, it is a significant talking point coming out of the win, and I can understand why the players and coaches are being asked about why they seem to play better on the road. In particular, French quoted Chivas forward/midfielder Alejandro Moreno, who scored his first goal in 2012 on Saturday, about the distinction, and Moreno's remarks provoked an interesting discussion on twitter among fans and writers (including French), all of whom follow Chivas very closely.
"For whatever reason, we seem to focus and engage into the game a little more on the road than at home...When you come to a place like Salt Lake or Portland, the environment forces you to be engaged for 90 minutes, and your mind is not allowed to wander. At home at times, we're not able to gather the support that is important for us.
"We encourage fans to come out and give their best effort so we can put our best effort forth as well. We appreciate our fans, and we encourage those on the fence to come out and support us as well."
It was that second blurb that seemed to offend some Chivas fans. To some, it seemed like a lack of acknowledgment for those who support Chivas and show up to game after game by Moreno. The writers who heard Moreno speak the words Saturday countered that Moreno was speaking more to potential Chivas fans or people who might be wavering in their support, and that the very last part of that quote was instrumental. Still, in reading the quotation, there exists a certain ambiguity in Moreno's comments.
I have thought about Moreno's comments in two related ways. First, I think there exists a "chicken or egg" dilemma at the heart of fan support for not just Chivas, but any sports team: which comes first, winning or fan support? Of course, the North American sports landscape is littered with teams that have a large fanbase but a terrible track record when it comes to winning or perhaps just winning titles (all of the teams in Cleveland, the Chicago Cubs, the Oakland Raiders, the New York Mets, feel free to stop me at any time...). But there normally exists a correlation between team performance and the size of the fanbase. One year is not always enough to alienate a fanbase, but neither is it usually enough to bring as many on the bandwagon as possible. The size of a fanbase is fluid, and ultimately, a sports franchise is successful from a consumer perspective when it maximizes both the number of hardcore fans and the number of casual fans who are willing to spend money on tickets and merchandise.
The truth for Chivas is that first, they are a young team in a young league, and to expect for sellouts in an instant is unrealistic (there is merit in critiques about the marketing, the appeal of the team's name and other concerns, but that's for another post at another time). Second, the losing record the past few years has really clouded the judgment of many who think Chivas are a hapless team that has no winning seasons, with no playoff berths, forgetting that Chivas have had good seasons in their short history. But if a team is mired to the bottom of the standings for years at a time, it is admittedly very difficult to get new fans excited about the team. I think there is a certain psychology most Chivas fans seem to share, as fans who like underdogs and want them to make good, but it is very difficult to bring friends and family to games if the product on the field is unattractive and more importantly, does not lead to results. I am not willing to go so far as to argue that Chivas' fanbase will double or triple in size if they start winning consistently, but why don't we see a title and see where that leads the club for starters?
This brings me to the third main truth, and my other main thought about Moreno's comments: the audience. MLS in the U.S. does not get much attention from the mainstream sports media. The Galaxy get significantly more attention in Southern California (and beyond) than Chivas, but let's be real - neither team makes much of a dent in the Los Angeles sporting landscape. When I lived in LA, the Galaxy occasionally got a mention on the local sports report or a local half-hour sports wrap-up show, but I don't recall Chivas ever getting a mention (I should say these were English broadcasts - I do know there has been somewhat more coverage on the Spanish local stations over the years). The result is that the audience who reads Moreno's comments is, I would argue, self-selecting. French's article was on the ESPN LA main site, but you have to scroll quite a ways down the page to find it. So it turns out to be primarily Chivas' fans and fans interested in MLS in general to read it, and as a result, Moreno's appeal to potential fans most likely falls on deaf ears and angers fans who are already quite invested (literally) in the team.
In the meantime, let's hope the various sides can do their part in the matter. The coaches and players need to keep producing results on the field. Fans need to bring themselves and their passion to the matches, and when possible, try to bring a friend to the match and get them involved in the sport, in the league, and in the club. Journalists, bloggers, and other writers not included in those descriptions need to continue covering the team. The front office needs to invest in the team and in marketing the team regionally. If we all do our part, then there's no reason why this team can't become successful on multiple fronts.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!