Monday, September 28, 2009

Chivas puts Latin flavor for MLS

Chivas USA represents the latin flavor in MLS
By Justin Rodriguez, ESPNsoccernet, September 26, 2009

Like so many other soccer-crazed kids in Guadalajara, Julio Ramos grew up rooting for the famed first division club CD Guadalajara.

His father introduced him to Guadalajara before he could walk, taught him to love Chivas, and young Julio's allegiance came with perks. Ramos' dad was a maintenance worker for Guadalajara and often brought Julio to practice to mingle and kick the ball around with his idols.

Two decades later, Ramos' three sons are receiving their Chivas baptism north of the border. Julio rooted for de la Torre, Ledesma and Madero back in the 1980s. His boys, Julio, 9, Jair, 5, and Jonathan, 2, emulate Thornton, Talley and Galindo.

Don't get the wrong idea, their dad will be buried a CD Guadalajara fan. However, he loves Chivas USA as much as the sacred El Rebano Sagrado.

"I will not lie, I didn't love them the first day," says Ramos, 29, now living in Pacoima, Calif. "It took some time, but now I love Chivas USA. I'm not lying. It reminds me of the Guadalajara culture and I'm passing it down to my kids. That's what it's all about. It feels good to take them to the stadium and for them to feel what I feel."

And, of course, it doesn't feel any better than this. Hispanic Heritage Month wraps up on Oct. 15 -- an extra source of pride for Chivas USA's mainly Latino fan base. Even if the club does nothing official to celebrate the event.

However, that's not a Chivas diss. You see, here in SoCal, Chivas celebrates its Hispanic roots year-round: From the heat of the MLS playoff race to quiet offseason days.

Being here, going to a game when Chivas USA is rocking The Home Depot Center, almost has the feel of a Mexican first division game. Fans chant and sing all game long, banging on drums, urging the Goats on. They come from Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala. Americans, white, black, Asian, whatever, are welcome to join the party. Many supporters are like Julio Ramos.

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They were bred on CD Guadalajara, and still root for the club with a record 11 Primera Division championships. However, these days, most of them root for Guadalajara's offshoot just as hard. A rarity in the rabid world of soccer fandom.

"I couldn't imagine playing for another team with the type of fans we have," says Chivas USA defender Jonathan Bornstein, his mother, Laurie, a native of Chihuahua, Mexico. "Obviously, I think it's great. The fans understand the sport, they understand soccer, they are very passionate about the sport. In turn, that reflects upon the team. I think we all appreciate the way they cheer for us, the way they stand behind us."

Like two years ago in the SuperClasico. Chivas USA versus the rival L.A. Galaxy. It was Chivas USA's home game at The Home Depot Center.

Bornstein took to the pitch with the Chivas fans going wild. Then he saw it. Fans behind one of the goals began unfurling a huge Chivas USA flag.

Bornstein watched in amazement as the flag kept getting bigger and bigger until, finally, it filled the entire section.

"It was the coolest thing I've ever seen," Bornstein says. "That's something that happened because who the fans are and it's still in my memory. I couldn't believe looking at it when I took a corner kick. It's what I think of when I think of our fans."

And Ramos wants you to know this: Sure, there are plenty of passionate Galaxy fans who flock to The Home Depot Center when David Beckham is bending it. But it isn't the same as when he's banging his bass drums with the rest of Union Ultras -- a Chivas USA fan group.

"It's very simple, they are fake fans," Ramos says. "Not all of them, but a lot of them don't have a clue about soccer. They just come in to take pictures of David Beckham. They don't bring the passion that Chivas USA brings for 90 minutes."

Chivas USA, founded in August of 2004, has a unique relationship with its Hispanic fans because of its link to CD Guadalajara. Chivas USA is Guadalajara's sister club and is the only entirely Mexican-owned team in major professional sports in the U.S. The American outfit's uniform has the same vertical red-and-white stripes of Guadalajara -- donned along with blue shorts and socks.

Just about everyone in the club -- from the players to media relations and front-office staff -- speak at least a little Spanish. First-year Chivas USA defender Mariano Trujillo was bred as a player in Mexico in the Pumas' system. He went on to play 13 years in the Primera Division, including eight with Puma's top club.

No, nothing will ever match the intensity, the color, the flair of a Pumas game at OlĂ­mpico Universitario in Mexico City, where the team plays its home games. Still, Trujillo thinks Chivas USA is on to something. Those celebrations on steamy nights in Carson, Calif., feel a lot like home -- Trujillo playing the game he loves in front of so many of his people.

"It's been amazing for me," Trujillo says. "To have a lot of Hispanic people around the team and to have an Hispanic name. As a Mexican, it feels good to be a part of this. I love the atmosphere."

Justin Rodriguez covers USL, NCAA and youth soccer for ESPNsoccernet. He is the soccer writer for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., and can be reached at

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