Rarely in the history of MLS has a team been more lampooned than Chivas USA were this offseason. Each move was dissected and almost universally frowned upon. From the hiring of new head coach Jose Luis "El Chelis" Sanchez Sola to the decision to pick Carlos Alvarez with the No. 2 overall pick to any number of the seemingly unbalanced trades, Chivas USA was the punchline that kept on giving.
We had seen this before -- someone attempting to do things differently than previously done in MLS -- and it usually failed. Why would Chivas USA, a team with a pretty awful track record, be any different?
Turns out, maybe El Chelis is a little smarter than we gave him credit for.
The Liga MX coaching veteran has led Chivas to a 3-1-1 start that gives them the third most points in the league. It's a better five-game run they've had at any point since 2010 and the second best start to a season they've had in their nine years in MLS.
How they are doing it is exactly how El Chelis promised they would, too. By pushing the tempo on offense and making do on defense. Their 10 goals scored are the most in MLS, while their seven goals allowed is more than all but one team.
El Chelis promised a more Latin-style of play, with passes quickly swinging around and numbers being pushed forward. It hasn't always been as pretty as the outspoken coach would like, but it has been highly effective so far.
Since their opening season loss, they've been even better, going 3-0-1 and outscoring opponents 10-4.
And it's particularly fitting that most of El Chelis' moves seem to have worked out perfectly. No team has already had more players score than Chivas' seven, five of whom are new. Eric Avila (one goal, two assists) seems to finally be making good on the promise he once showed as a highly touted player out of UC Santa Barbara. Edgar Mejia (two goals, one assist) seems to have found his calling as a deep-lying playmaker in the midfield. Alvarez is proving perfectly deserving of his draft status. Perhaps the biggest and most interesting development has been the emergence of Juan Agudelo as a more complete striker.
Prior to leaving Saturday's win over the Vancouver Whitecaps with an apparent left quad injury, Agudelo had been showcasing a side of never before seen. Sure, we knew he was an immensely talented scorer who was capable of producing wonderful moments. But his work ethic and willingness to do the little things has often been called into question. It was part of why Agudelo never won over Hans Backe in New York, was deemed tradable and failed to make the most of his opportunities last year. It was also why El Chelis was interested in bringing in Carlos Ruiz during the offseason.
At some point, though, Agudelo bought in to what El Chelis wanted to do. Agudelo has looked like a completely different player this year, continuing to show all the technical abilities we always knew he had and sprinkling in some impressive hold-up play as well. The 20-year-old isn't just supplying moments of brilliance, he's making his presence felt throughout the game.
It seems no small coincidence that El Chelis is the one who seems to be bringing it out of him. Whatever outsiders may think of the outspoken coach, his players seem to love him. Witness how many of them run to the sideline to hug El Chelis after scoring goals. Listen to how they speak about him. See how they play. There's an enthusiasm there that is undeniable.
Of course, we are just five games into a 34-game season and much can change. What will happen the first time Chivas USA hits a bad run? Will players start to bristle at the idea of playing in front of nearly non-existent crowds at Home Depot Center? Might El Chelis grow bored of MLS? These are all things that could feasibly happen. But right now, let's give the man some credit: He might be crazy, but it's crazy like un zorro.