LOS ANGELES, Calif - Chivas woke up on Monday with a great big smile, but it seems what is most important is not its semblance, its eyes or the makeup it put on its face. What is truly most important, absolutely essential, is what is on the inside -- its soul, its spirit.
After only a few minutes under the intense sun of the Ciudad Universitaria, beads of sweat were already forming on the foreheads of Carlos Salcido, Fernando Arce, Omar Bravo and Aldo de Nigris.
On the field, this Guadalajara seems be enacting drama quite different from its performances of late: today it is a team with flair that knows what it wants and how to achieve it on the field. However, it also has an understanding, stemming from the new changes that have occurred in its reserve team, that its future, the true value of its team and its brand, cannot be tied up in a group of players over 30 years old. Chivas cannot live off of a 1-0 victory in the Estadio Olímpico Universitario, although it definitely did revive to some extent the smile and confidence of its fans.
Smart decisions yield smart results. Chivas brought what it had to bring to form a competitive team that, as it tries to put distance between it and the relegation zone, engages with the part of the standing to which it actually belongs.
This is the team that has Salcido going forward while marking up and running for 30 or 40 meters, or Arce receiving the ball recovered by Israel Castro to reorient the play. Or maybe Ángel Reyna crosses the ball across the top of the penalty box for Bravo come out of nowhere. This Chivas is a disaster waiting to happen if it does not end up strengthening the most important structures of the club. Guadalajara can't just make the rounds every summer with its checkbook to see that there is enough talent on the market to reinforce it and fill in its gaps. Chivas needs to be self-sufficient, independent. Its players farther down the ranks have to grow and become immediate solutions to its immediate needs.
I am completely on board with the idea of trying out the ex-director of Barcelona's (Albert Benaiges) reserve team. It is a new way of doing things, because it must be admitted that among its many recent shortcomings is Chivas' failure to produce the players it needs for its senior team, as well as a structure that maintains its competitive edge. Bringing in a figure from European soccer, with proven results at the highest level, is a new way of approaching the issue. Benaiges may triumph or flop. It will depend on how much time and space he is given. However, there is no doubt that he will leave the legacy of a new experience.
I believe that Rafael Puente Junior has a perfect understanding of Guadalajara's problems. I think he has openly and directly communicated them to sporting director Juan Francisco Palencia and to owner Jorge Vergara himself, and I think that if, in the end, Vergara is patient enough to receive advice in the right way, Chivas very soon will leave behind, once and for all, the troubles that it had with relegation and the worst moment in its history.
It is a completely different Chivas: more competitive, winning more often, and more complete, but it is not a decisive solution. They have to keep working to find the true "missing link."
David Faitelson is one of Mexico's most popular sports journalists, having worked for TV Azteca before joining ESPN. He is based in Los Angeles and co-hosts "Nacion ESPN," ESPN Deportes' version of "SportsNation." Follow him on Twitter @Faitelson_ESPN.