A Closer Look: Chivas USA head coach Wilmer Cabrera's coaching history

Doug Pensinger

His experience working with youth players stands out.

Wilmer Cabrera was announced as the new Chivas USA head coach late last week. Though he had a long playing career, primarily in South America, he never actually played in MLS. But he has worked in MLS off and on for the past several years, with a stint as a head coach of the United States Men's National Team U-17 team sandwiched in between. Let's go through Cabrera's coaching resume in greater depth.

Cabrera got his start in coaching through assistant coaching on the college and club level in New York. He worked with BW Gottschee Academy in New York between 2005 and 2007, which was and continues to be part of the same U.S. Soccer Development Academy system as Chivas USA's Academy.

The Colombian has his USSF coaching 'A' badges, earned during this period.

In October 2007, Cabrera was hired as the U.S. U-17 coach.

The U.S. went to the 2009 U-17 World Cup in Nigeria. During qualification, the Americans went 3-0-0 in group play and advanced to the World Cup. The rest of the CONCACAF tournament was not played, however, as the swine flu outbreak hit Mexico hard and the championship rounds were canceled (the tournament was held in Tijuana).

At the World Cup, the U.S. finished second in group play, with a 2-1-0 record. They lost to group winners Spain, and then beat Malawi and the United Arab Emirates to advance to the knockout stages. In the round of 16, the U.S. lost 2-1 to Italy.

In 2010, the team went 1-1-1 in the Nike International Friendlies in Arizona, beating South Korea 2-1 before playing a scoreless draw against Brazil and losing 2-0 to Turkey. Altogether that year, in matches against fellow international sides, they amassed a 4-8-1 record.

2011 was a busy year for the U-17s, as records show they played 24 matches, including friendlies, qualifying for the 2011 U-17 World Cup, and the World Cup itself, held in Mexico. In the 24 games played, the U.S. had a 13-6-5 record.

Though they had a tough match in the quarterfinal against El Salvador in qualification that had to go to added extra time, they ended up winning the CONCACAF qualification tournament. At the World Cup, the Americans advanced from the group stage with a 1-1-1 record, beating the Czech Republic, losing to Uzbekistan, and drawing New Zealand, before losing to Germany 4-0 in the round of 16.

Despite the strong year for the Americans, the program let go of Cabrera and hired Richie Williams to lead the U-17s in January 2012. From there, Cabrera joined Oscar Pareja's coaching staff with the Colorado Rapids. In 2012, the Rapids finished 7th in the Western Conference with an 11-19-4 record (for context, Chivas finished in last place in the West with a 7-18-9 record that season). Last season, Colorado had a surprisingly good season, though they just pipped the San Jose Earthquakes to get into the playoffs as the fifth seed. The Rapids posted a 14-11-9 regular season (again, by comparison, Chivas had a 6-20-8 record last year).

In 2012, the Rapids won their third round U.S. Open Cup match-up, but lost in the fourth round to fellow MLS side Sporting Kansas City. In 2013, they were upset in the third round by USL PRO side Orlando City SC.

From all of this, what stands out in Cabrera's resume? His work with young players. Though he gained experience on the pro level in Colorado, the vast majority of his coaching experience, including all of his prior head coaching experience, is on the youth side. Considering the emphasis the Chivas organization has placed on developing youth, both in Mexico and here in California, it would seem Cabrera's experience in that field made him a particularly attractive candidate, and probably the factor that really set him apart from other names.

Add to that his formative playing experience in Latin America, which means he is familiar with styles of soccer outside the traditional American modes, and Jorge Vergara's dream of playing a so-called "Latin style" (whatever that really is), could come to fruition under Cabrera.

But while Cabrera has experience playing in South America, he is also familiar with not only the U.S. system on a national level, but also how MLS works. Arguably the biggest risk in this league is hiring foreign managers with no knowledge of MLS. In fact, that ultimately proved to be true with both Chelís and Jose Luis Real, and neither coach could usher in any real stability for Chivas USA. On paper, it certainly looks possible that Cabrera can marry the notions of playing a "Latin style" with the practical considerations of what will work in MLS.

But the biggest risk with this hire is handing the reins to a man who has never been a head coach of a pro team. There are cases where youth coaches can make the step up in this league, but more often those managers come from college and not the pre-college ranks. And the objectives in coaching pro prospects and actual pros is substantially different. Whereas youth coaching involves evaluating top prospects and preparing them for a future playing the game, professionals have made it, so to speak, and while they are also learning, they need to perform now, not in a few years, on a big stage.

Effectively, Cabrera has served a long apprenticeship before taking up a head coaching position in MLS. He paid his dues, and there's something to be said for that. But it is obviously unclear if that means he can make the step up and be a good head coach who improves Chivas.

Let's not forget that he is part of a team, and Jorge Vergara and company will need to support Cabrera financially and emotionally in order to see if this newest era will bear fruit. But while Cabrera has worked his way up the ladder, it remains anyone's guess if he can finally start the turnaround in Chivas USA's fortunes. For the sake of the fanbase, let's hope he can.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

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