<
>

No. 6: Chivas USA coach Robin Fraser

Robin Fraser seems to be on the right track in turning Chivas USA into a strong team. Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Counting down the top 11 personalities of 2011 in Southern California soccer ...

Those familiar with Robin Fraser -- from his time as a U.S. national-teamer and one of the best defenders ever to play in Major League Soccer to his stint assisting Jason Kreis' rebuild of Real Salt Lake into a powerhouse -- knew what Chivas USA was getting when the club decided last January who would lead its team into the future.

The future looks good.

Fraser represented a do-over for L.A.'s second Major League Soccer club, which had been forced to remake once before, under Bob Bradley, after horrendous missteps in its formation and during the inaugural season.

The Goats were one of the best teams in the league in four seasons under Bradley and Preki, his successor, but Martin Vasquez was left with a virtually empty cupboard -- and none of the team's previous leaders -- when he was put in charge for 2010.

Vasquez, now Jurgen Klinsmann's top assistant with the U.S. national team, was chased off following that season to start a front-office makeover that has evolved into a cultural shift, still progressing (and not entirely painless), within the institution. The appointment of Fraser and of chief assistant coach Greg Vanney gave this new culture definition and identity, and the work they put forth -- no matter the team's on-field struggles -- ought to bring rewards shortly.

Fraser, a former Galaxy star and two-time MLS Defender of the Year who turned 45 earlier this month, is a serious and diligent man, a realist whose cerebral approach guided his season-long (and continuing), piece-by-piece roster upgrade. The team hovered around .500, in the mix for a playoff berth, until a seven-game winless stretch (featuring four straight losses) in August and September took them out of it.

The work isn't finished.

“This is going to be a process,” Fraser acknowledged last spring. “I think you want the process over yesterday, and the truth is that the process takes a long time. ...

“It's a never-ending process. You're never satisfied. If you think the process is over, then you may as well retire and be done, because you've stopped being open-minded and you've stopped looking for answers, and I think you can never get to that point, because there's always somewhere someone else can be doing it better. Unless you're Pep Guardiola and you're Barcelona, maybe.”

What does it take to build a team the right way?

“It's interesting, because I think the right mix of players is so much more than a talented group. It's the personalities, it's the leadership, it's attacking- vs. defensive-minded players and how they mesh and how many you have on the field of each. There's so many different things.

“And when you're close to being completely satisfied -- and maybe you never actually get to that point -- you've got that good balance of all those things.”