Martin Vasquez's abrupt dismissal last month as Chivas USA head coach had nothing to do with his performance or club management's confidence in him to lead the team in the next step of its rebuilding project.
As director of soccer Stephen Hamilton said following the Goats' final game, an Oct. 23 loss to Chicago at Home Depot Center: Vasquez was their guy, and the club had every intention of heading into the second year of a three-year plan with him at the helm.
It all fell apart within days, all over Vasquez's reluctance -- his refusal -- to replace a member of his staff.
Vasquez and Chivas USA managing partner Antonio Cue provided ESPN Los Angeles identical descriptions of a 3½-hour meeting two days following the Goats' season finale, one that both sides called positive and productive -- until Vasquez was told he would need to jettison one member of his staff.
The meeting -- involving Vasquez, Cue and Cue's brother, Lorenzo, an executive with Chivas USA LLC, the company that manages the club -- was a “great meeting,” Vasquez said, with discussion covering what went right and wrong in an 8-18-4, last-in-the-Western Conference campaign and the best way to improve the club.
Lorenzo Cue mentioned bringing in another assistant coach, and Vasquez, who was given his first head-coaching job by the club last December, said he “thought it was a good suggestion, a positive suggestion.”
By the end of the meeting, Vasquez said, “we had a plan of action going forward, and we felt very positive about going forward and turning this around.” Then, as the meeting was coming to an end, Vasquez was told “somebody from my staff had to go. I was not in agreement with that. I said if somebody was coming in to be part of the group, great. But losing somebody, I'm against it. Because I have a lot of confidence in my assistants, and they have all the knowledge to help us, to help Chivas USA, turn this around.”
Said Antonio Cue: “A year ago we gave a vote of confidence that [Vasquez] could choose his staff, but the committee [after the season] decided we wanted to review the people in his staff and bring someone new from outside and reallocate a staff member, maybe to the youth system. He said he was not willing to do that.
Vasquez's staff was assistant coaches Carlos Juarez and Carlos Llamosa, goalkeeper coach Daniel Gonzalez, technical coach Nick Theslof and assistant coach/team administrator Kevin Esparza. The coach to be reassigned had not been determined, and no names were mentioned during the meeting.
“We said [he should] make sure to think about before saying it is not acceptable, because it is something we want to happen. He was against that immediately, and we said instead of responding, why not think about it. He said he was not going to think about, and we said if you're not willing to do that, you can resign.
“That's pretty much what it was.”
Vasquez was asked to resign by Hamilton and Shawn Hunter, who last week resigned as club president, and he refused to do so. Then he was fired.
Cue said Chivas USA would like to have a new coach in place by the MLS Cup final, which is Nov. 21 in Toronto, and that the club would continue with the same philosophy: building the roster primarily by developing talent, seeking to play attractive, possession soccer, and maintaining at the core a Latin American identity.
“Nobody is beyond the institution,” Cue said. “If [a coach] wants to leave because he's being loyal to his assistants, I think it's a mistake. It's not about one guy or two guys, it's about the system. … We cannot put in jeopardy a whole institution because of a guy's not wanting to do adjustments. Just look at our results. There's good things that happened, but there had to be adjustments, and if he's not willing to do that,” then the club must look elsewhere.
Cue said there was “a big list of people wanting to be involved with us,” and that there were “at least 10” candidates to succeed Vasquez.
“What happened was probably a miscommunication,” said Vasquez, who had served as a Chivas USA assistant coach from the club's 2005 inception until joining Jurgen Klinsmann's staff at Bayern Munich in July 2008. “I wish we would have taken the time to not just make a decision right away, to sitting down again and looking at the situation from different angles so we could come to a positive decision, a positive solution, and continue to go forward.
“I think patience and communication would have been key. My relationship during the year was positive with Lorenzo and with Antonio. I just wish we could have continued. But I was hungry for an opportunity [to be a head coach], they gave it to me, and I'm thankful for them giving me this opportunity.”
Vasquez said he wanted to “sit down and really look at 2010” and complete a report on what went well, what didn't, which lessons were learned, and where he needs to progress as a coach before making any decisions about his future.
“This was my first year as a head coach,” he said. “Going forward, when I get my next opportunity, I need to have a clear picture of things that worked.”
He said the learning curve was steep, primarily in maneuvering through the league's salary-cap and roster regulations, and that he felt most at home devising game plans and coaching on the field.
“That was one of the positives of this season,” Vasquez said. “We brought in a new culture [to the team], and we wanted to play attacking football. When you come in with a new culture, it takes time to really play the way you ask them to play. We came in with a goal of building a team with teamwork and respect and trust, and it was difficult at times as we were changing our character and personality. But we always were positive. …
“Yes, our numbers were poor. Our results were inconsistent and poor. We also have one of the youngest groups in MLS, one of the lowest in salary, but we knew it was a project of three years.”