This piece was produced for Sonic Trace by KCRW’s Avishay Artsy and aired during KCRW’s local afternoon broadcast of All Things Considered.
Los Angeles is home to two Major League Soccer teams.
The team is on its third coach in less than a year, and there’s been high turnover among players and staff. Charges of racism and discrimination on the part of the team’s management have divided its fans.
Both teams play at the StubHub Center in the South Bay city of Carson. At a recent Chivas USA game against the Colorado Rapids, the roar of the crowd filled the stadium, but less than a quarter of the seats were occupied.
“It’s been bad before, but this is worse,” said Luis Bueno, an Associated Press soccer reporter. “They’re announcing 7,000 to 8,000 [tickets sold per game], but there’s maybe 3,000 people here. It’s discouraging when you have 50,000 to 60,000 in Seattle, Portland is selling out, and Galaxy is doing well.”
FROM MEXICO TO L.A., THE FAN CULTURE
But like any team, Chivas USA has die hard fans, which have formed two breakout supporter groups. The biggest one is the Union Ultras. Their members wear the team’s colors, red and white, and also support Chivas de Guadalajara, Mexico’s most followed club, and the team that spawned Chivas USA.
Julio Ramos, known as “El Chiva Mayor,” helps run the Union Ultras. Ramos, who was born in Guadalajara, went to matches with his father before they moved to the States. His father worked for the club for 20 years, and his uncle played on the team. “They represent a lot of the Mexican culture,” Ramos said, “so I fell in love with the team.”
Chivas de Guadalajara was formed in 1906, and is known for only signing players who are Mexican or have Mexican-born parents. Fans love Chivas de Guadalajara because it is a symbol of Mexican nationalism and unity – a team of the people. That’s what Chivas USA was meant to be.
“They give me the opportunity to show my kids the Chivas culture,” Ramos said. “It’s tradition, it’s passion, it’s religion. I want to teach that to my kids. And the opportunity to do that with Chivas USA is amazing.”
The other supporter group, Black Army 1850, is made up of punks, skinheads, and metal fans. They have tattoos, piercings, and dress in black. Behind this group is a man named John Sandate, who goes by “East LA Chiva.” He Union Ultras a few years ago to form the Black Army, which only chants in English, and their mascot is a chiva, a goat, with American flags in its eyes.
“If Chivas USA had its way, it would remove the American flag from the jerseys and want to put a Mexican flag on them,” Sandate said. “This is Los Angeles and it’s not part of Mexico anymore, it’s part of California, and that’s part of the fifty states, and you should be proud of that.”
Chivas USA was created in 2004 by billionaire businessman Jorge Vergara, who bought Chivas de Guadalajara in 2002. He put the team in LA because it had the highest Mexican population outside of Mexico. But last year announced Vergara that he wanted to bring Chivas USA back to its Mexican roots. Subsequently, two youth team coaches filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the team, claiming they were fired because they’re not Mexican. Members of the Black Army have been vocal about their frustration. They even held up a banner during the game, reading “Vergara Out.”
“When it comes to being a soccer fan, nobody has it worse than Chivas USA fans,” Sandate said. “We’re hated by everybody and we have an ownership that’s indifferent, maybe even racist, I don’t know, but definitely does not care enough to improve the product.”
This was clear at last month’s SuperClasico, when the two Los Angeles MLS teams, Galaxy and Chivas faced each other on the field.
Andrew Alesana was cheering for the Galaxy, when asked about the Chivas USA fans, he called them “nonexistent.” “They’re the worst team in the league, period, bar none,” Alesana said. “They shouldn’t be here. They’re not a real organization. They’re a fake organization based off of a team in Mexico. We don’t respect them as rivals, and we don’t respect them as a team.”
At this game, the Union Ultras and the Black Army 1850 were sitting together, in a corner of the stadium, vastly outnumbered by the Galaxy fans in attendance.
“Things are not looking good,” said Jose Salcedo, a Union Ultra member. “We’re not making the playoffs. It looks like it’s a team rebuilding.”
A NEW HOME?
One thing that is under discussion is to move Chivas to a different stadium. Their lease at the 27,000-seat Stub Hub Center expires next year. They’re looking at USC’s Exposition Park, among other options in Monterey Park, Fullerton, Santa Ana, and Pomona. Those are more heavily immigrant neighborhoods, which may draw more Mexican fans. Salcedo emphasized the need to find a new place for the team to call home.
“We have to move out if we want this team to succeed. Everywhere around the StubHub Center it’s Galaxy fans. So there’s no real fan base that we can target and build a fan base for Chivas. We need new grounds,” Salcedo said. “We’re always away, even when we play home.”
KCRW’s Sonic Trace is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Art Works. And by Cal Humanities, in partnership with the NEH. Experience more at calhum.org.