The best bit of news to come from last week's announcement that MLS was buying Chivas USA from Jorge Vergera and Angelica Fuentes -- aside from the blatantly obvious bit about MLS taking over possibly the worst-run franchise in North American sports -- is the reassurance that the team would be staying in Los Angeles.
The intention was repeated several times during MLS Commissioner Don Garber's conference call. And while nothing should ever be considered final until the rebranded Chivas USA is playing in a new stadium, every indication is that MLS will do everything possible to keep them playing within the greater Los Angeles area.
While MLS fans all around the country have been clamoring for Chivas USA to move somewhere -- almost literally anywhere -- else almost ever since the club's founding, the league has remained steadfast in the belief that two teams could thrive in the country's second-largest metropolitan area. The reason why MLS feels this way is not particularly hard to understand: With nearly 13 million people living in the Los Angeles metropolitan area it is the second most populous region in the country. Once you include the so-called Inland Empire and Orange County, that's nearly 7.5 million people. Put another way, more than 20 million people live within an hour or so drive of StubHub Center.
For perspective, that's more people than live in any state other than California or Texas. Even if you split that market into two, it's still bigger than any other in MLS outside of New York.
So, yes, there are more than enough people to support two MLS teams in Los Angeles.
While that may just seem like a lot of undercapitalized potential, it was not so long ago that LA was home to two reasonably well drawing teams.
In their inaugural season, despite playing some absolutely horrid soccer, the Goats managed to draw 17,080. That was in a league where the league average was just 15,108. Meanwhile, the Galaxy averaged 24,204 that year -- notably two seasons before the arrival of David Beckham. A year later -- with a playoff team -- Chivas was averaged 19,840, second only to the Galaxy who drew 20,814. Three times in Chivas USA's first four years of existence, in fact, they combined with the Galaxy to average more than 40,000 fans per game at StubHub Center. It was as recently as 2011 that the SuperClasico -- a name that was always hyperbolic but not quite so ridiculous -- was regularly drawing sellout crowds.
What's particularly notable about Chivas USA's attendance figures is that they seem to have little to no negative effect on the Galaxy's. In Chivas USA's first season, for instance, the Galaxy saw a slight increase from their last season as sole tenants of StubHub Center. Six of the Galaxy's best eight best attended seasons have come during the Chivas USA era.
None of this is to suggest that Chivas USA has been anything resembling a true success. Aside from those first two season, Chivas USA's attendance has mostly ranked in the lower half of the league and they were in the bottom two in each of the past two seasons.
But the degree to which they've been a failure -- at least in the turnstile -- has been a bit overstated. Until 2012, they had averaged nearly 16,000 fans over their first seven seasons. The league averaged about 16,350 over that same period.
Chivas USA's biggest problem was not there was no market for what they were attempting to provide -- a more Latin-flavored soccer experience -- but rather it was an error of execution. The team never had a clear mission -- starting as a marketing arm of Chivas de Guadalajara, morphing into more of a generic MLS team, then proclaiming an intention to field an all-Southern California-born squad and finally back to where they started -- and switched coaches and general managers so often that they effectively guaranteed that no plan would stick.
Even more than that, they never put in the energy or money required to get out from under the Galaxy's tremendous shadow. As long as Chivas USA were playing in a stadium where they were clearly their biggest rival's tenants, they were going to be fighting an uphill battle.
In announcing the sale, Garber seemed to acknowledge as much. While Chivas USA showed that even an mostly rudderless organization can pull a respectable crowd in the current situation, whoever buys the team must figure out a way to find their own home in order to truly unlock its potential.
That potential, though, is almost limitless. A well executed rebranding, coupled with a new stadium could herald a new era that could leave the Galaxy struggling to maintain their Southern California supremacy. Like it or not, no other unfilled market offers a remotely comparable upside.