What you want if you’re the fourth or fifth-most popular professional sport in the land is news of rising attendance and better TV coverage.
You’re soccer, the most popular sport in most of the rest of the world, so what you want if you’re MLS is news that more and more of your homegrown players are making an impact in England, Germany, France and elsewhere.
But this week, what Major League Soccer got instead, courtesy of HBO’s Real Sports, was a story bound to embarrass one of the league’s least successful teams.
In May, Dan Calichman and Ted Chronopoulos, two former MLS players employed by Chivas USA as coaches, sued the team, contending that they’d been fired not because they weren’t doing their jobs well, but because they were not Latino. The Real Sports story picked up the beat on those charges and also included players who felt they’d been let go for the same reason.
This is a dismaying development for all sorts of reasons. The most obvious is that discrimination is a destructive and illegal policy, no matter the victim. Beyond that, by many accounts, Chivas USA, a subset of the Mexican team Chivas Guadalajara, used to be fun to watch. According to Phil Wallace of the Los Angeles Times, just a few years ago, the team had the most diverse roster in all of MLS, attendance figures were better than respectable, and fans cheering in both English and Spanish made for what Wallace called “a fun and vibrant atmosphere.”
Not surprisingly, Chivas USA’s new owner, Jorge Vergara, who also owns Chivas Guadalajara, and other team officials have denied the charges brought by Calichman and Chronopoulous. But as presented on Real Sports the denial was so ineffectual that Chivas USA’s representatives cut it short.
Lawyers will argue and eventually there will be a decision or a settlement. Money will change hands. In the short run, perhaps justice will be done. We can always hope.
In the long run, it would behoove MLS to recall the days of “a fun and vibrant atmosphere” at Chivas games, when the former Home Depot Center rang with cheers in two languages, and to do what they can to recreate that circumstance. For a league still working to catch up to its better-funded and more established competitors, how could that be bad?