It could be argued that Carlos de los Cobos’ downfall as Chicago Fire head coach began just 10 days after he was hired.
It was then, on Jan. 21, 2010, that de los Cobos made his first move, bringing Salvadoran midfielder Julio Martínez in on loan from Mexican second-division club León FC.
De los Cobos hailed Martínez, whom he coached while in charge of El Salvador's national team, as a marquee player. He said in a statement released on the day of the signing that he “could not be happier” about Martínez's acquisition.
Of course, Martínez was anything but marquee worthy. He struggled from the start, failing to adapt physically to MLS and appearing in just three matches before being released in June.
De los Cobos' failure to recognize that Martínez would have difficulty in the fast-paced, physical game played in MLS was the first clue that de los Cobos would have trouble to thrive in with Chicago and, more generally, in MLS. It was an awkward first step for a coach who faced very high expectations from the beginning of his tenure.
The Martínez signing was only the beginning. There was the Jon Busch fiasco, in which the veteran goalkeeper was surprisingly waived less than a week before the team’s 2010 opener; the puzzling early-season lineups and daily three-hour training sessions that sapped the team’s energy; and, of course, the Nery Castillo misadventure.
The Fire signed the Mexican forward as a Designated Player in mid-July last year with the hopes that he’d revive their fading playoff hopes and bring that attractive style that de los Cobos often mentioned. But Castillo seemed to be more interested in reclining more than reviving. Though de los Cobos can't be held completely responsible for bringing in Castillo, he failed to motivate the mercurial attacker, who showed up out of shape, never got fit and failed to score or register an assist in eight appearances with the Fire.
By the time a second Designated Player, Freddie Ljungberg, arrived at the end of July, the Fire were way back in the standings and de los Cobos had lost the locker room. The team played out the season, finishing out of the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history.
The club announced early this offseason that de los Cobos would be back in 2011, but the dreaded vote of confidence made it clear that he would be on a short leash. The fact that technical director Frank Klopas started taking a more active role in training sessions this offseason made the writing on the wall even more obvious: If the Fire struggled in 2011, Klopas would be there to take over.
And that’s exactly what happened on Monday when the Fire, mired in the worst 18-month stretch in team history, fired de los Cobos after a 1-4-6 start.
Klopas is now in charge for the remainder of this year. It remains to be seen whether Klopas — who has scant coaching experience — has what it takes to turn the Fire's season around. But provided he doesn't make even half the mistakes of his predecessor, he's at least got a fighting chance.
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.