OTF Roundtable: Chicago Fire Week Thirteen

Here's lookin' at you, Kid. (photo: goal.com)

Here’s lookin’ at you, Kid. (photo: goal.com)

Each and every week, OTF’s writers and contributors chime in on the state of the Fire…

Should Frank Klopas be fired? 

OTF Editor Scott Fenwick

The case is quite simple actually. The history speaks for itself. It’s one of roster instability. It’s one of a man who can’t make up his mind. It’s one of a man who is being out-coached. It’s one of a man with no answers and a myriad of excuses.

No matter how much folks want to blame owner Andrew Hauptman and GM Javier Leon, the buck now stops at Kid Klopas’s desk. He was given the keys to the Firehouse over five years ago. He was entrusted with the dual role of technical director/head coach. He was brought in to be Chicago’s “soccer man.” And now, the house is burning down.

Giving Frank Klopas decision-making power was, and always will be, a mistake.

Here are the facts:

Frank Klopas was hired as Chicago Fire technical director in January 2008. During the next two seasons (2008, 2009), with Dennis Hamlett as head coach and a roster full of players he (mostly) didn’t recruit or sign, Klopas’s club made the playoffs and saw modest success.

Not including the drafts (SuperDraft, Supplemental, Waiver, or Expansion), technical director Klopas made 11 roster moves in 2008. He made five in 2009.

Then came 2010, and Klopas started tinkering. Perhaps his most infamous decision was to agree to sign Carlos de los Cobos as head coach. The Fire went on to underwhelm in league play that season and amassed a 9-12-9 record (36 pts.). They didn’t make the playoffs.

Klopas made 17 roster moves in 2010.

In 2011, Carlos de los Cobos opened his MLS campaign with a 1-4-6 record in his first eleven games. He was subsequently fired. 

By the way, if you’re counting, that’s nine points. Unless he beats RSL this Saturday, Frank Klopas will have earned less points in his first eleven matches this season than de los Cobos did in 2011. 

Now back to Memorial Day weekend two years ago…

Carlos was gone and Klopas was in. The new interim head coach went 1-2-5 in his first eight. Then came Pavel Pardo.

After Pardo’s arrival (Grazzini too), Chicago improved significantly and barely missed the playoffs after going 7-3-4 in its last fourteen games. In November, after going 8-5-9, the “interim” tag was removed from Klopas’s title.

Thus a man with little coaching experience (two years pro indoor, no outdoor before he stepped in for de los Cobos) was now THE MAN in Bridgeview. Little did we know it was El Comandante (Pardo) who was really leading the Men in Red and helping them get results.

Klopas made 30 roster moves in 2011.

2012 came around, and after a couple botched signings (Puppo, Robayo), the silver lining came in the form of another aging World Cup veteran. Arne Friedrich joined Pardo as a second field general, further masking Klopas’s shortcomings and failures as a manager, tactician, and leader of men. Results were mixed until summertime, but the Fire hung tough and competed.

Shortly after the signing of DP Sherjill MacDonald mid-season, he and Chris Rolfe went on a tear and took the Fire to within two points of first place in the Eastern Conference by the end of September. About two weeks earlier though, Pavel Pardo suffered injuries that kept him out of the lineup during six of the Fire’s last eight games. Chicago went 3-4-1 during that stretch, did a backward nose-dive into the playoffs, and lost at home in the play-in round to the surging Houston Dynamo. In the end, MLS sides figured out how to handle the Fire and Klopas had no answers.

Klopas made 24 roster moves in 2012.

Now, 2013.

Pardo retired, and despite his fragile health, Friedrich was brought back for one more year at maximum salary. Defender Dan Gargan was gone, and Oduro was off to Columbus. In came Santos, Duka, Lindpere, and Larentowicz. Out went Friedrich to the infirmary. In came Wells Thompson to right back. Four empty roster slots remained in hand.

In sum, Klopas has assembled a squad that’s earned seven points in its first ten games. Injuries have indeed plagued the Fire thus far, but so has a lack of roster depth, along with a myriad of excuses for its poor form. Not once has Frank Klopas publicly shouldered the blame for his team’s futility, which began last year when it mattered most. 

Since the loss late last September at Kansas City, Frank Klopas has led the Men in Red to a 3-11-2 record, with a goal differential of -15, earning 11 points from a possible 48. In his last three games, Klopas’s Fire has suffered consecutive shutout losses, something that’s only happened twice before in club history.

There is no MLS club with a worse record in its last sixteen league games than Chicago Fire.

Given their roster – one that Klopas built – the Fire should at least be able to compete for results. It hasn’t however, and it’s not simply the players’ fault.

Coaches are tasked with getting the most out of their players. Klopas hasn’t. Coaches are expected to adjust when their opponents figure out how to beat them tactically. Klopas has failed in this regard too.

If you’ve paid attention this season, you know that Chicago Fire has been nothing but a mishmash of false confidence, long faces, canned answers, and poor excuses. 

Frank Klopas has lost this team. He’s in over his head. It’s time to stop the bleeding and let “The Kid” go.

Brian Owen Battle

“Fire him” is usually a suggestion made by people who have no idea what’s really going on. I put myself squarely in this space. The decision on what to do with Fire head coach Frank Klopas is even harder because of his close connection to Chicago soccer culture.

The main argument against firing Klopas is that the team’s injuries have limited their potential this year, defensive-minded Logan Pause and Arne Friedrich especially. The thing is though, the team is continually getting torched from set pieces, not fluid play — a fact that points to poor discipline and faulty planning, not to a severe talent deficit. That said, most criticism this year hasn’t been volleyed at the defense. Rather, it’s the scoring drought that takes center-stage.

The sheer lack of goals is what’s so disconcerting. The Fire spent considerable money to fortify their midfield in the offseason and were so confident with Chris Rolfe and Sherjill MacDonald up top that they traded Dominic Oduro to C-bus. Currently, Oduro has five goals. Chicago Fire has six. Meanwhile, the Fire’s midfield additions (Larentowicz, Lindpere, Duka) have struggled to find their place in the squad.

These personnel issues are forgivable for a head coach doing “the best with what he’s got,” but Klopas has a big hand in personnel decisions, and part of his job is to identify and bring in talent. He’s not simply a coach. He’s a manager. There’s a difference in soccer.

Despite all the strikes against him, a mid-season sacking still doesn’t make sense to me. There’s no easy swap to make, and doing so won’t salvage the season. It’s possible that a healed, cohesive team could still gel later this season (as they did last year), but considering how few points they’ve earned thus far, it seems likely playoffs aren’t in the cards for 2013.

But, when you take into account Klopas’s role in decisions for the upcoming July transfer window, and the still-up-in-the-air Robbie Rodgers situation he helped orchestrate, this summer could still yield some very positive things for the club. Thus a May lynch mob could turn out to be a bit rash.

Daniel Casey

The dreadfulness of the Chicago Fire isn’t something that can change by a management shake-up. There’s enough blame to go around, certainly. In pro soccer the burden of the collective failures of the players is always shouldered by the manager. But firing Frank Klopas is not a solution; rather it is a reaction and one born out of frustration. And a completely valid frustration.

The players on the pitch are his players; they were each brought in by Klopas to play a role in his system. That system is failing now, but it is failing not because the architect’s designs are flawed but rather because the builders are shirking their responsibility. We need to take these players to task, and we need to demand that Klopas do so. There is no silver bullet, and a new manager would simply leave the same problems. We – supporters and pundits – need to put pressure on Klopas to get aggressive.

We have all been duped by Joel Lindpere. Lindpere is a colossal failure. His arrival in Chicago has finally pulled the curtain back. Lindpere’s value in New York came because of other players. His assists were due more to the finishing quality of others, his goals due to more dangerous players around him drawing off coverage. In Chicago it has been revealed that Lindpere is an inept left winger and a maladroit central midfielder when not surrounded by world-class talent. Every week that Lindpere is in the starting XI is a week in which he proves he no longer has the quality to play at this level.

Frank Klopas needs to drop the hammer. The players are failing the team, they are failing the supporters, and they are embarrassing the city and the league. Firing Klopas would merely leave us with the same failing players who would only continue to be self-satisfied.

Lucas Hammer

After a season like this, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Frank Klopas is up against the ropes. I am, perhaps, in the clear minority that believes he doesn’t deserve to be fired – at least not yet.

A quick look at the first OTF Roundtable of the year shows everyone (save me) was praising what appeared to be a team preparing to make a run for the Supporters’ Shield. Then they lost. Then they lost again. They couldn’t defend, and then they couldn’t score. The same people kept starting, and the same people kept under-performing. It was like October 2012 all over again.

The problem I had with Klopas at the end of last season was that he seemed unwilling to change things up when they clearly weren’t working. By the end of the year, opponents had Chicago pegged before kickoff and exploited their every weakness. Earlier this year, that same stubbornness seemed to cost Chicago the season before it had even really started.

I saw a small glimmer of hope the other day when Klopas stated that Patrick Nyarko would’ve started in place of MacDonald whether he was sick or not. That’s the coaching we haven’t seen from him in a while (since benching Dominic Oduro for Sherjill MacDonald, which worked out well at the time), a willingness to change it up and admit that maybe he didn’t have it right the first time. And that is the type of coaching it will take to get the Fire back on track.

So no, I don’t think Klopas should lose his job if he remains willing to make changes until he finds something that works. If he doesn’t though, that’s another story. 

Juan Santoliva

I jumped on board the Klopas train when he was handed the reigns, but the ride ends now.

Frank Klopas did his best work on the field as a player, and Chicagoans will always be grateful for his service while in kit and boots. But coaching IS and NEVER WILL BE something he can succeed at.

Klopas first took over in the middle of the 2011 season, not having to make any real contributions, so we can exclude that from his decision-making skills. In 2012, he had a so-so season, barely getting into the playoffs and winning just two of his last six games – not the type of eye-popping stat a team wants heading into the postseason.

Now, let’s take a look at the wonderful players Mr. Klopas has brought into the Fire family. There was Collins John, Puppo, Robayo, Dube, Chaves, Castillo, and so many more. All these players failed and showed Klopas’s inability to find talent that could thrive in MLS.

And even when Chicago does acquire players who can make a difference, Klopas trades them away or allows them to leave. This team needs defensive depth now more than ever, but it can’t turn to Dan Gargan for help because he’s off warming the bench in San Jose. It could certainly use a goal-scorer, but Dominic Oduro is too busy scoring goals for Columbus now.

No, Klopas can’t physically help his players perform better, but during a more than five-year span, he has gotten most everything wrong when it comes to building a winning organization. It’s time to ask the front office if they really want to improve Chicago Fire soccer. If they do, then they know what they must do.

Rob Thompson

Does anyone have Peter Nowak’s phone number?

Seriously Fire Nation, the talk of firing Frank Klopas is starting to gain momentum. I suppose you can’t deny the facts that the Fire’s flame was put out in October 2012. Also, you could make the argument that none of Klopas’s signings (excluding the draft) have ever panned out, save for Pavel Pardo, Sebastian Grazzini, and the injury-prone Arne Friedrich. Problem is though, none of the former lasted, or will have lasted, more than a season and a half. And must I remind you of the three amigos: Puppo, Robayo, and el Flaco?

Then there is the claim of Klopas’s managerial mishandling of skilled players like Diego Chaves and Grazzini, veterans Dan Gargan and Dominic Oduro, and DP Sherjill MacDonald. Plus, the latest under-performing, expensive crew of 2013, with the likes of Joel Lindpere, Chris Rolfe (a resigning), and even perhaps Jeff Larentowicz, are borderline busts. There are other (younger) players on the roster, you know.

Fire Nation, I want sexy and hard-nosed soccer.  I want an offense that can attack skillfully and defend with purpose. Do you want this too? Well, look further than the Portland Timbers. This is an example of an organization that’s quickly turned into a contender. How you ask? It’s because they have a manager, Caleb Porter (a rookie no less), who knows how to coach, who gets the most out of his players, who can adjust his tactics to put his team in its best position to succeed, regardless of its opponent.

Peter Nowak may not be liked by the league, but you could argue that he’s the best attacking midfielder in MLS history. He’s also got a hell of a lot of head coaching experience. I want to see his vision, his attacking philosophy, transplanted to the coach’s box one more time – in Chicago. There are other options too.

With a thin roster, the Fire now face three games in a nine-day stretch: at RSL, at Charlotte Eagles (U.S. Open Cup 3rd round), and vs. DCU. Come Sunday June 2nd at Toyota Park, all signs point to Frank Klopas’s reckoning. The contest with the league’s worst team, D.C. United, may turn out to be the telltale match for Kid K and his empty bucket. 

9 thoughts on “OTF Roundtable: Chicago Fire Week Thirteen

  1. As a Philadelphia Union fan, I dunno that bringing back Peter Nowak would be such a good move. He was good for the Union’s first two seasons and then was a fickle madman in his final half season from which the club is still recovering. Last I heard, Nowak was conducting clinics for Delaware youth, I kid you not – it was at the club for which I grew up playing.

    I’d also disagree with Daniel Casey that “The dreadfulness of the Chicago Fire isn’t something that can change by a management shake-up.” I actually think that a change could make a positive difference. While the Fire probably don’t have the talent (or the points) to make the playoffs, they could at least make a charge and entertain the fans with a change in leadership and strategy. The biggest problem seems to be that there isn’t a clearly outlined vision for the club (at least on the sporting side) which only seems to exacerbate what happens on the field.

    The Union are hardly a model club and I don’t think John Hackworth is up to the job, but I do know the club’s strategy: it’s to develop a core of young players and consistently supplement this core with reasonably priced veterans. Ideally, the current group of young guys (Okugo, Farfan, Williams, MacMath, McInerney, Gaddis, Cruz, etc.) will become perennial challengers for an MLS Cup in a few seasons and as some go to Europe and some go to other MLS teams, a new crop of young guys will take their place.

    Regardless of whether this strategy will or will not work, at least the Union and their fans have a vision. It doesn’t seem like the Fire have any clue when it comes to their soccer strategy and that failure is Frank Klopas’; ergo, Klopas out.

    • You say you don’t like Nowak! Well, there are some other distinguished legacy players from the Fire to choose for their next manager. They could bring in CJ Brown who already is the asst coach at RSL. A tad bit defensive minded, but I’m sure he would chomp on the bit. Then there is Jesse Marsch, another coach that had part ways on amicable terms with Saputo because his style was not Italian minded. If you really want to go balls to the walls crazy, The Fire can bring in Stoichkov and announce his signing at his documentary movie premier. This guy is a little crazy and as for the players if they don’t perform he WILL slap them around (Roberto Mancini style)

  2. Pingback: The High Cost of Winning (and in the Fire’s case… losing) | Owen Goal

  3. Very much agree with Lucas Hammer’s statement, I do believe that the FO has made Mistakes by letting go of Grazzini and Chavez, but with little to no transparency coming out of the club, In good faith all I could do is critique the On the Field performance’s, which over that last few weeks have been so up and down its incredible. All I can say is that Stagnation does not lead to wins, and I believe FK is doing whatever he can on the field to fight treading water.

  4. Pingback: On the Fire in Chicago… | the axe

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