Chicago hope new look under Klopas helps end spell

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — If the Chicago Fire can’t break out of their winless slump on Saturday night at Toyota Park against the Seattle Sounders (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), it won’t be for a lack of preparation. 

Interim head coach Frank Klopas ran the Fire through the gauntlet in his first week in charge, schooling the team on the Sounders, tactics and strategy. 

“I like Frankie’s approach to training,” goalkeeper Sean Johnson said Thursday. “We see game-like situations day in and day out, we’re playing a lot, learning strategy, doing tactical work and, most important, [talking about] tactical adjustments and strategy for the game on Saturday. I think that’s been definitely a plus and we’re looking forward to this weekend.”

One thing Klopas really keyed in on Thursday was the Fire’s set-piece play, instructing his team on how to work better with offensive and defensive dead balls. Chicago have been dreadful defending set plays all season, conceding seven times on set pieces while running former head coach Carlos de los Cobos’s zonal marking scheme.

Johnson hinted the Fire might switch from the zonal marking system to a man-to-man scheme on Saturday. 

“We’ve been in zonal to this point and it hasn’t been very successful for us, so we might come out in a different look Saturday,” Johnson said. “But more than anything, we got to stay checked in on keeping the ball out of the back of the net — that’s how we got to come out.”

Klopas also might tweak Chicago’s formation. Fire midfielder Corben Bone implied that Chicago will start Saturday’s match in a 4-4-2, a set-up they haven’t used that much this season. 

Bone, who has primarily played as a center midfielder this year, added that he’s hoping to fill in on the wing for Marco Pappa, who will miss at least three matches while on Gold Cup duty with Guatemala.

“Pappa’s gone so I see it as an opportunity for myself to maybe get in different positions out on the wing and see what I can do,” Bone said. “I haven’t really spoken about it too much [with Klopas], but I see myself – we’re playing in a 4-4-2 – out on the wing, and so I think I’m probably going to take on that role.”

One thing that hasn’t changed since Klopas took control on Monday is the Fire’s desire to end their nine-game winless streak in league play. At eighth place in the Eastern Conference, Chicago are desperate for a win, and they see no better time to get one than in their new coach's first game in charge. 

“Right now some of the details, or lack of attention to detail, is what’s hurting us,” Fire captain Logan Pause said. “We haven’t felt like we’ve been getting outplayed by teams so those are things we’re trying to hone in on and … we’re trying to work on it every day in training and we’re hoping to fix it and get a win Saturday.”

Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com.  E-mail him at sam.h.stejskal@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.