Chivas USA, the football club associated with the Mexican club Chivas, is in turmoil. The Vergaras, owners of the Mexican franchise, recently sold the club to the MLS. This is a tale of woe and very few joys: ineffective players, ineffective management, ineffective ownership, poor results, PR disasters, overall discomfort, all led to the franchise’s demise. Like one does with a house for sale, the MLS will be keen on pimping the Chivas team so that it can attract an owner soon. In all of this, one is pressed to ask, “but, what of the fans?” We reached out to Julio “El Chiva Mayor” Ramos, leader of the Union Ultras, Chivas USA biggest hinchada. This is a tale of woe and very few joys and a broken heart.
At heart, every fan is a romantic. True hinchas invoke an exalted sensibility and state of mind when talking about their team. Their vocabulary is the stuff of Neruda poems, all love affairs and blinding passion. “El Chiva Mayor” is one true hincha; throughout our entire conversation he never once distanced himself from that abstract and all encompassing ideal: the cultura Chiva that he and his fellow hinchas so vehemently want to embody and defend. He referred to himself in the third person once, and was generally affable and positive in spite of the situation.
When does your biography as a fan come into being? How did you become a Chivas faithful?
Well, Julio Ramos, better known as “El Chiva Mayor” began at birth really. My father worked at the Club Guadalajara in Guadalajara for over twenty years. So I remember my father taking me to the Chivas soccer school and to the Jalisco stadium. That’s not all, my godfather, my bautizo godfather is [Gabriel] “El Nene” Zapiain. So my love for Chivas began in the cradle and will continue until I die. Now, my love for Chivas USA was something that grew slowly over time. When they announced that a team called Chivas USA would be playing here in LA, it was an opportunity for me to show it the same Chivas culture that my dad had taught me. So, slowly the team began catching my eye and I started falling for Chivas USA.
Were you already living in L.A.?
Yes, I was here. I’ve been here for more than seventeen years now, always longing for the chance to go every other weekend, every Sunday afternoon to the Jalisco. So Chivas USA was one more opportunity to go to the stadium and take my kids and start showing them what the Chivas culture is about.
How did you become the leader of the Chivas USA fandom?
Well, I have always liked to watch Boca Juniors matches. I’ve always been fond of the way its fans support their team. I remember a game, Boca Juniors against Atlas [the other Guadalajara team] and Atlas was really killing Boca and the support from the fans practically made the team lift itself up off the ground and turn the match around and win. That really made an impression on me, and when I started going to Chivas USA matches, I thought: “that is something we have to start doing in this stadium”. So I got together with some friends who also believed that Chivas USA needed a hinchada of its own –because there were other groups, but they went there because of uniform’s colors, they were not interested in the club as such. So we decided to start, first as Los San Patricios and later we became the Union Ultras. And from there, till I die with my Chivas, brother.
The San Patricios started in 2007, at the end of the 2007 season. And when the 2008 season began we decided to change the name to Union Ultras, and from there on we started to become the face of Chivas USA; that is how I’ve seen it and a lot of people have told that me also. Unfortunately, Chivas USA as a club, because of the owners we had, were not able to create an identity of its own, and I think that us as a group were able to give it to them: through the passion we showed, through the loyalty to the team, through our pride in the team’s colors and in the city.
What was your relationship –yours and the Union Ultras– with the Chivas USA front office? Did they treat you right?
I have no complaints about the people working in the front office, actually. They are very capable people, but they were not given enough tools to work with in order to take this team and make Chivas USA a powerful team. I had a very good relationship with management there, with the general managers that came to the team –because we had a few of them. I even talked to Jorge Vergara a few times. What I can tell you is this: when the people from Guadalajara became involved 100%, they only sold us illusions, they got here and only gave us their cheap politics. When Jorge Vergara in 2012 announced that he was buying 100% of Chivas USA, he announced that he would make it the best team in the MLS, the same old things, Vergara and his big mouth. He never stops talking and he never delivers. That is a pity. We are left disillusioned because, in a way, we anted to believe in what him and his people were offering: that they wouldn’t sell the club, that it would not be transferred outside LA, that it would flourish, that they were going to invest in it, and well… obviously that was not the case.
Vergara is an extremely polarizing figure, so during his time as full time owner of the club, which were the better times? Or was it all bad?
No, no. Look, one of Jorge Vergara’s first and biggest mistakes –and not just him, Antonio Cue as well, when they announced the franchise of Chivas USA in 2004 for the 2005 season– was announcing that they were creating a team that would trump over the MLS, a team that would show them [the MLS] how to play football, a team that would represent the Mexican community, and all that, I think that was a huge mistake, because first and foremost, you have to back up everything you say with actions. And they gave us a fifth tier team. Poor Ramón Ramírez, they put all the weight of the team on him and it was clear that he would not be able to do much. They started sending players from the Mexican third division, along with local players who were in fact irrelevant. Because of that we had the worst season in the history of the MLS. So, the first year, we started all wrong. The relationship with the English speaking press was hostile, they only wanted to deal in Spanish, and when you are in a multicultural country, where many languages are spoken. And you have to understand that you are not only representing the Mexican community. Los Ángeles is a very diverse crowd, where you find among many more, Salvadorean, Armenian and Korean communities. And they could have reached out to them so that the stadium was full every game…
But anyway, the next four years, they made a great decision by bringing Bob Bradley to the team and by allowing him to work. He is an MLS guy, he knew how to do his job. He brought veteran players like Ante Razov, Jesse Marsch and Claudio Suarez. They let him do his job for a year, they let him build the team according to his knowledge. Bradley only lasted a year, but he took the team to the playoffs. And the following three years the team made the playoffs as well, with Preki at the helm; he was Bradley’s assistant coach. So those were four good years, of make the playoffs consistently. I remember that Galaxy struggled three years because they could not make the playoffs. But in 2009 onward, everything changed.
In 2010, Chivas USA started to decline, it started to falter in many aspects. I think that one of the things that made this club sink was the departure of Shawn Hunter. With Shawn Hunter, we were averaging 12 to 15 thousand a game; he was really good at that. He was very smart, he knew the league well, I even think he was part of the people who helped convince David Beckham to come to MLS. After he left, everything went downhill. The executives started making bad decisions, they started bringing useless players; they tried to learn from the legacy and the work that Hunter had done, but it was not the same. Hunter knew how to market the team, how to promote it, he had a lot of strategies.
Shawn Hunter, before stepping down.
For you, who were the emblems of the club?
Oh, there are many, undoubtedly. Players like Claudio Suarez, who played several years in Chivas USA and he helped organize the defense as it should be. Or midfielders like Jesse Marsch, veterans of a thousand wars in the MLS. Ante Razov, Paulo Nagamura, Brad Guzan, Michael Galindo. For me those players are icons of Chivas USA. They will always be remembered for all they did and for the way in which they fought for this club.
“Mr. Vergara is a liar, and I say it to his face whenever he likes.”
What were the mistakes, what went wrong in your mind?
One of the biggest mistakes –and it was mentioned by commissioner Darver in his press conference when he announced that the league had bought the team– was this: imagine what it would have been like if Oswaldo Sanchez had not gone to Santos but to Chivas USA, or Bofo Bautista, or Omar Bravo in his prime, or young talent like Michel Vázquez or Julio Navas. Instead they sent players who were ineffective. They made one mistake after the next. It is beyond me how it is possible that Vergara was so inept as to sell a franchise that will be worth much more that the meager 75 million that they gave him for it. The young talent in the LA area is priceless; the talent in the Chivas USA academies, there are very valuable players, even foreign ones who would have been perfect in a trade for Mexican players.
If Vergara would have invested a little bit of time and honesty in this project, I don’t have a doubt that we would have been one of the stronger teams in the MLS. Unfortunately, as we have come to know, Mr. Vergara is a liar, and I say it to his face whenever he likes. Because he lied to us all; because he lied to my face, he said to me, “I want to make this team one of the biggest teams in the MLS…” The usual stuff, the same empty words… his mouth always gets him in trouble. Because of his ignorance, he let all this crash to the ground and he practically gave away the franchise. Even if he got 75 million and paid initially 20 million so as to have 55 million in the black, for me, it is a stupid thing to do because here you have the young player academies, you have much more pros than cons, you could have had a very mutually beneficial relationship between the two clubs [Chivas de Guadalajara and Chivas USA]. But no. He threw everything to the trash. And as it always happens, the ones in suits do not care about the people in the stands, about the passion we feel for the team, what everyone of us has done or not done in order to keep supporting the team. They don’t care, they only care about the money.
And as fans, how are the Union Ultras holding up?
For us it has been a slap in the face. But as I have been saying, on the one hand we are very sad because the team is going to have a new name. But on the other, we are happy because at least we do not have such a mediocre owner. And hopefully an owner will come by that will invest some money, at least that is what the commissioner said: one of the requirements for anyone who wants to buy the franchise is to maintain it here in LA and to build a new stadium. Am I scared that that might change? Of course; they are the suits and they are the biggest liars. I am not saying they are lying now, but things might change radically in one moment, and if they do not get a good opportunity to sell the team, they can easily take it to another state and we will be the ones who get screwed.
And if that were to happen?
I would then go back to being a Chivas fan only. Chivas is always in my heart. A lot of people criticized me because they said that there was no way to love two clubs. And I said, yes, of course there is. You yearn for one of them and you live with another. Right now I yearn to be at the Omnilife Stadium with my Chivas, but I can’t; however I have the opportunity to be with a team that I love and I support as wholeheartedly as the other. Now, this change, we understand that big clubs have undergone similar transitions. An example is this very club, Club Guadalajara: when it started in 1904, it began as Club Deportivo Union. Four years later they decided to change the name to Club Deportivo Guadalajara so that it would have a bigger significance to the city of Guadalajara. So we think that the same thing will happen with Chivas USA. They want to change the name, to give it a new name so that it is better identified with the city in which it plays, L.A. Everything happens for a reason and we want to look at this from that positive perspective.
If you had to estimate, how confident are you that the team will stay and that things will turn out?
Hmm.. I would say 90%. I think there is about 90% chance of it happening. The commissioner not only said all of that to us, he also said it to the press. At least that is some sort of guarantee.