MONTREAL – In the second half of the 2013 season, the Chicago Fire surmounted their 2-7-1 start, while the Montreal Impact dug themselves a deeper hole when trouble came.
And while Chicago came up short for the postseason, the Impact feel there's still a strong argument in favor of Frank Klopas, who was introduced as the new Impact head coach and director of player personnel – on a three-year deal – on Wednesday night to replace Marco Schällibaum.
Seated alongside Klopas in a Montreal conference room on Wednesday, sporting director Nick De Santis recalled that with eight games to play, Montreal had 45 points. They made the playoffs, but finished with 49. With Frank Klopas – whose team pushed Montreal all the way – at the helm then, would Montreal’s fate have been different? De Santis seemed to at least entertain the idea.
“[Chicago] were 17 points behind us, and they managed to finish one point away from the playoffs,” De Santis said. “In the difficult moments, were we able to cope? Did we have the right people to hold the group together and work in the same direction? I think that Frank has shown [such abilities] in the past two years.”
In the end, the coaches of both teams left. But for Klopas, who still wished to work as a head coach, a setback became an opportunity.
“I've learned during my experiences playing for 17 years in Europe and here, with two and a half years as a coach, that the setbacks I’ve had made me a lot better,” Klopas said. “I’ve learned, and you must be able to do that. It’s never going to go straight up. You will have setbacks. But I think that they’re opportunities if, as a player and as a coach, you learn from them.”
Though it means that Klopas must relocate from his beloved Chicago, calling Montreal home shouldn’t be a problem. Since retiring in 2000, Klopas has enjoyed several Christmas vacations in the Quebec metropolis where, he says, he has been drawn this year by the Impact’s committed ownership, the noisy fanbase and the significant investments in the youth academy.
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As for the first team, Klopas recognizes that some areas - namely the backline and depth in midfield and wide areas - need improvement. But it doesn’t make him less enthusiastic about the squad.
“I feel really strongly that this is a good, solid team that’s been assembled together with experienced players, a good core of young players, and it’s a team that’s heading in the right direction,” Klopas said.
The departed Schällibaum, meanwhile, was told of the front office's decision “a couple of days ago,” offered Nick De Santis, who stood by the initial appointment by saying that it’s still possible for a European coach to succeed in MLS if he does “a lot of homework.”
But with Klopas’ experiences, De Santis insisted, “it’s the best of both worlds.”