BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Flanked by four of his players at a press conference on Thursday, the Chicago Fire's brand new coach and director of soccer, Frank Yallop, spoke to the media for the first time after meeting his team.
Unfortunately for the new coach, meeting and greeting is all he'll be able to do after the last day of permissible offseason training came and went without the Fire squeezing in a practice session. He won't head into the offseason with much personal knowledge of his team, and he won't retain any of the coaches who know the ins and outs of this roster.
But when forward Mike Magee was asked how he'd fill in his new boss on the team's needs going forward, he seemed confident that, come time, Yallop would know what to do as well as anyone.
“I think he's proven that he knows better than us,” Magee said. “That's his job, and he's proven he's great at it.”
The task ahead of Yallop may be an arduous one.
The former San Jose Earthquakes boss will be tasked with turning around a club that qualified for the playoffs just once in the last four seasons – including just missing out on the final spot in the Eastern Conference this season – but also one that produced the second-best record in the league after Magee arrived in late May. Because of that late-season surge, Yallop doesn't think his roster is far away from being a successful one.
“It's well rounded," he said. "There's obviously pieces that you can always add, and if you can add a bit of quality in certain spots, then you do it. I won't be saying where they are, it's going to happen.
"If you look at it as a whole, they had a great run with that group of players. ... For those guys to get that run going shows something about the squad. But again, budget stuff will come into it and we have to figure out certain spots to fill. From an outsider looking in, we've got a good squad.”
One challenge will be evaluating the team’s young talent that has received sparse first-team minutes. United States U-20 international Victor Pineda still hasn't received one minute of first-team action. Neither have Corben Bone nor Yazid Atouba, both once highly rated players, played after the fifth week of the season.
“Guys that played, no problem,” Yallop said. “I've coached against them, seen them, they're quality people. It is going to be difficult. But as much as I can see and talk and find out what I can about [the young players], the better. I'd hate to let someone go, and all of a sudden they become very good because they didn't get the chance to play. I don't want to do that. It's not easy though.”
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His first order of business will likely be to hire assistant coaches and a technical director. The only member of Frank Klopas' staff he decided to retain was strength and conditioning coach Tony Jouaux. The Fire also cleared out almost all of the front office staff on the soccer side.
Yallop will have the final say on any soccer moves, but a technical director would do much of the behind-the-scenes work, scouting and finding players during the season while he is on the field.
“The technical director will be doing all the underneath work, which is all the time-consuming stuff,” Yallop said. “I'm a head coach, but last call on players, in or out, is me …
"I'll have the staff to make sure that runs smoothly. It basically means I'll run the team how I see fit. I think any players we bring in or move out, the last decision will be mine.”