By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
A mostly under-the-radar season of underachievement was lifted into the national spotlight this week when Chivas USA’s hiring policies were investigated on the HBO series “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.”
The Peabody Award-winning series investigated the discrimination lawsuits of former Chivas academy coaches Daniel Calichman and Theothoros Chronopoulos, who claim they were fired because they are not of Mexican descent.
On Sunday night, Chivas USA returns to the pitch for the first time since the program aired, meeting the Seattle Sounders at 8 p.m. at CenturyLink Field.
“(Our players are) aware of it, but I don’t think it’s a big important part of conversation within the team,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “All the guys know some guys who have been down in Chivas, who have played there, they’ve talked to them. I think the attitude within the team is, ‘Well, that’s them; that’s not us.’ … It’s something that should be more on (Chivas’) minds than it is on ours.”
Prominently featured in the report is former Seattle defender James Riley, who is of African-American and Korean descent. He said he believes his trade from Chivas to D.C. United was part of a “systematic expulsion of players that didn’t align with what they were trying to do with Chivas USA” under the new 100 percent ownership of Jorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes, who also control Chivas Guadalajara of Liga MX.
Sounders designated player Shalrie Joseph — a U.S. citizen from Grenada — played part of last season at Chivas but was traded away before this season. A Sounders spokesman said Joseph declined comment on the situation.
However, at the time of the trade, Joseph indicated he had come to believe he wasn’t a good fit with Chivas.
“On Day 2 I realized this might not be the place for me,” he said in February. “And after speaking to (then-coach Jose Luis Sanchez Sola) I knew it definitely wasn’t the place for me — and it was on to what I can do next for my career.”
The day after “Real Sports” aired, the club put out a statement saying one of its biggest strengths is the diversity of its employees. The release goes on to say, “We absolutely reject any form of discrimination and racism,” and it concludes by quoting H.G. Wells: “Our true nationality is mankind.”
“Real Sports” said that Major League Soccer declined to be interviewed on the topic, citing the ongoing lawsuit.
“I know Calichman and I know Chronopoulos and some of the other people who were on there,” Schmid said. “It’s something that’s been out there for awhile. It’s obviously an issue. I think it’s a Chivas issue. I don’t think it’s a Sounder issue, I don’t think it’s an MLS issue; I think it’s a Chivas issue, and hopefully they’ll find resolution in the appropriate manner.”
The HBO report followed the first bit of good news Chivas USA (4-11-5) had enjoyed for awhile: a soccer victory against Toronto on July 17 that ended a 14-match winless streak. That result came in the Chivas debut of defender Carlos Bocanegra and forward Erick “Cubo” Torres, who scored the lone goal.
“(Bocanegra) gives them an experienced center back, somebody who can help direct others that are playing back there with them; and also somebody who is good in the air and is also dangerous on set pieces, so we have to be aware of that,” Schmid said. “(While Torres) is a player that knows he’s got to play well here if he wants to get back to where he was.”
Torres’ previous club was Chivas Guadalajara.