CHESTER, Pa. — Although the Chicago Fire currently sit in last place in the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia Union players and coaches, perhaps more than anyone else, recognize that they’re capable of turning things around.
Many of them are familiar with the winning ways of Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas (above left), who captured a championship with Union manager Peter Nowak (above right) and Union head of scouting and player development Diego Gutiérrez when all three were players for Chicago in 1998.
Justin Mapp, who played for the Fire from 2003-2010, also knows Klopas well, which makes the Union midfielder wary for Wednesday’s game at Toyota Park (9 pm ET, watch LIVE here).
“He never really did a whole lot of hands-on coaching when I was there, but I think he’s a great soccer mind,” Mapp said of Klopas. “He’s been around the organization for a long time and knows what it means to be part of the Fire. I know he’s made a lot of changes but I think he’s got them headed in the right direction.”
Klopas, the Fire’s technical director who was hired as interim coach on May 30 when Carlos de los Cobos was fired, is certainly making strides to get his team out of the cellar.
The Fire have lost just twice since Klopas took the coaching reins, and they should become even more formidable with the recent acquisitions of veteran imports Sebastián Grazzini (Argentina) and Pável Pardo (Mexico), both of whom will make their MLS debuts Wednesday.
“It was a tough spot for him coming in at that point, with games coming quickly and trying to make moves,” said Mapp, who will be playing in Chicago for the first time since the Fire traded him to Philly last July. “But I think he’s done a good job. I guess only time will tell.”
While the Fire have been adding players to the mix, the Union have done more subtracting as of late.
After Philadelphia’s 2-1 loss to Colorado on Friday, Nowak announced that leading scorer Carlos Ruiz — whose wonder-strike from 40 yards out lifted the Union past Chicago the first time the two sides met this season — would be leaving the club. The Union will be even more shorthanded in Chicago because starting right back Sheanon Williams will serve a one-game suspension for the red card he picked up against the Rapids.
But while reinforcements will likely be on their way before the transfer window closes on Aug. 14, Mapp, for one, believes the Union will show why they are one of the best teams in the East, even without a full deck.
“We’ve got a very deep team so I think that helps us,” Mapp added. “It definitely gives other guys opportunities to step up and do well. We’ve got more than enough to get the job done.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.