TUKWILA — Chivas USA has been an easy target for a cheap laugh on multiple fronts in Major League Soccer.
Attendance has been worst in the league since 2012, sometimes with embarrassingly small turnouts. Performance hasn’t been much better, with three last-place finishes in the Western Conference the past four seasons (the other finish was second to last). An HBO special last July reported accusations from employees of prejudicial treatment, the damage of which was felt leaguewide.
Add all that to Sounders FC’s 11-game unbeaten streak head-to-head, an impressive run that dates to 2009, and Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. road game against Chivas might seem like a walkover for Seattle.
That’s not how the Sounders are viewing it.
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“Chivas is a different team this year, in my opinion,” said midfielder Brad Evans. “The way they play, the team spirit — everything. They’re fighting and scrapping. … I think they’re on the right track.”
A franchise-wide transformation has been a deliberate process, particularly as the Los Angeles-based team still draws an MLS-low 10,000 fans per game. But signs have been encouraging.
First off, the league purchased Chivas USA from owners Jorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes in February and has assumed responsibility for operating the club. The team, once sold to a new ownership group, will undergo a complete rebranding from its ties to Mexican powerhouse Chivas de Guadalajara starting in 2015.
The coach is new (former Colorado assistant Wilmer Cabrera), the president is new (former MLS executive Nelson Rodriguez) and a popular ex-Sounder is at the forefront of an on-the-field makeover.
That player? Mauro Rosales, Seattle’s former captain and co-leader in career assists.
Rosales, according to the Sounders, was a salary-cap casualty who didn’t have a place on the roster once the team made midfielder Osvaldo Alonso a designated player. MLS clubs are only allowed three DPs, and Seattle already had high-priced stars Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins under contract.
Without such restrictions, Rosales might still be in Rave Green this weekend. His impact, though, is still felt months after a December trade that the Sounders used to acquire Tristan Bowen and, eventually, Marco Pappa through the allocation order.
“He was (part of the) fabric of this team for three years,” coach Sigi Schmid said of Rosales. “His quality as a player, but also his quality as a human being is something that we’ll never forget and will always be appreciated.”
Rosales’ performance has persisted with Chivas, as his three assists are tied for second in MLS. The Sounders fully expect their ex-teammate will be extra motivated Saturday, regardless of the nature of his departure.
“No matter what he says,” Evans said, “he’s got a point to prove.”
On the other side, Chivas USA defender Eriq Zavaleta, on loan from the Sounders, added that Rosales “seems to have a chip on his shoulder this year. He’s working very hard. He’s taking the role of playmaker to a whole new level that I didn’t even see last year.”
It’s an attitude seemingly shared by a renewed franchise driven to regain respectability.
• The Sounders are on a 7-0-4 run against Chivas, including five straight wins.
• Schmid said Chivas midfielder Agustin Pelletieri, a 31-year-old from Argentina, was a player that Seattle had once looked to sign.
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