Fire's turnaround strengthens 2012 case for Klopas

chicago fire interim coach klopas

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BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – It's highly unlikely the Chicago Fire are going to the playoffs this year – Wednesday’s loss to FC Dallas all but dashed those hopes – but that doesn’t mean that interim head coach Frank Klopas shouldn’t be back on the bench in 2012.

Klopas, who also serves as the club’s technical director, has turned the Fire around since taking over for former manager Carlos de los Cobos on May 30, compiling a 6-5-10 league record and transforming Chicago from one of the worst teams in the league to legit playoff contenders.

He also led the Fire to their first US Open Cup final since 2006, putting the self-titled “Kings of the Cup” in position to win the tournament after three straight years of early exits.

Klopas was active off the field as well, making a trio of brilliant midseason acquisitions in July. He signed key midfielders Pável Pardo and Sebastián Grazzini and traded the lightly used Dasan Robinson for starting right back Dan Gargan.

More importantly, Klopas has given the Fire an identity. After a year-and-a-half of constant lineup changes, formation switches and inconsistent play under de los Cobos, Klopas found a good lineup and stayed with it, using a 4-3-1-2 formation to propel the Fire up the table.

That’s given the Fire hope and direction heading into next year – both qualities that we’re lacking at the end of the 2010 season, which also saw Chicago miss the playoffs.

“Whether or not we make the playoffs, I think we're still building something and I think that’s important,” Gargan told MLSsoccer.com earlier this week.

The good results, the tangible sense of hope and the clear, solid direction have the Fire players firmly in Klopas’s corner.

“Personally, and I think this goes for most of the guys, I think he’s come in and done a great job,” Fire attacker Patrick Nyarko said after Wednesday’s game. “He almost turned it around when no one seemed to think the season was going to go anywhere. From his knowledge, the stuff he’s brought, and changes he’s brought to the team in terms of game preparation and everything, yeah, I would absolutely vouch for him. I think he’s been great for us.”

Of course, support from the players won’t remove the “interim” label from Klopas’s title. That decision will be up to managing director Javier León, director of player personnel Mike Jeffries and, most importantly, owner Andrew Hauptman.

Klopas himself didn’t have much to say about whether or not he’ll be back next year in his press conference following Wednesday’s defeat, telling reporters that the Fire brass will “wait and see” and decide after the season. It wasn’t a strong indicator that he’ll be back in 2012, but it also was a bit of a departure from his first days on the job, when he and Hauptman both hinted that Klopas wouldn’t manage beyond the 2011 season.

“When I stepped in, I said I believed in the group,” Klopas said when asked if he thinks he’ll be back as coach next year. “For me, more than anything, we had 16 to 18 new players [this season]. It takes time for players to jell. The late additions helped. I think there’s a good core that we can build on. We’re going to wait until the end to see. Right now the time is for us to focus on the upcoming game. Nothing else.”