BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Frank Klopas never wanted to be head coach. He’s always been adamant about that. But when the Chicago Fire let Carlos de los Cobos go in May, Klopas – who was then technical director – decided to come down from the front office and coach the team on an interim basis.
He got off to a bit of a slow start, but eventually helped turn the team around, leading Chicago to a strong 7-2-3 finish. He may not have initially wanted the gig, but he’ll be back in charge again next year, expecting big things from his promising squad. He recently sat down with MLSsoccer.com to discuss this past season and what’s ahead.
MLSsoccer.com: A lot happened this season. How do you feel about how it finished?
Klopas: Obviously when you’re not in the postseason, you never feel happy – I guess I can put it that way. But the one thing that we can’t forget is that we had to almost build a team up again with a lot of new players this year. We had a lot of players whose contracts were finishing last year, guys that we felt didn’t fit in with the club, so we had a lot of new players to bring in. We did that, obviously.
In the end, we didn’t get the results we wanted. We made the change and then it was a situation where you continue to build with the new group and give them continuity and more than anything just some time to jell together. I think we had a strong finish, for sure, but in the end we didn’t reach the goals we talked about.
So yes, we feel good about a lot of the players that we brought in about the progress that we made, but we have to continue to get better and build so next year we’re in a position where we’re competing for a championship. That’s the goal.
MLSsoccer.com: You coached the team for about five months this past season. How do you rate your performance?
Klopas: I don’t. I can’t rate myself. I think you have to ask ... it’s hard to ask.
MLSsoccer.com: Do you think you improved as a coach as time went by?
Klopas: I’m never satisfied. I always want to do better in any situation. For sure, I grew in my role and I’m sure that I have a long way to go, but like I said, my attitude every day is to come and try to learn and improve and make myself better. The only thing I can tell you is that I believe a person can learn and improve every day no matter how good he is. So for me, I went into it and I felt very confident, but I know walking away now at the end of the season that I’ve gotten a lot better with a lot more experience.
MLSsoccer.com: Was there more pressure in having the interim tag? Was it a bit awkward?
Klopas: I never felt pressured, but it was kind of awkward because it’s two different things, being a technical director and stepping into the roles changed. I never changed as a person because I believe always in being honest and I tried hard to create a good environment with the players where we can hold each other accountable and say things for the best of the team.
MLSsoccer.com: How does it feel to be the full-time manager?
Klopas: To come back and have the opportunity to work in something that’s been such a big part of my life in the city that I love and I grew in is a dream come true. To be the head coach leading this team, it’s a great opportunity. I’m thankful. I’m honored. This city and this organization I care a lot about. I don’t hide my emotions at all because I truly believe that I’m proud to be a member of this organization and I’m proud to be in this city. I don’t take those things for granted, and more than anything, I want to bring the players here that understand what it is to be a part of this organization. When they put that jersey on, they should wear it with honor and leave everything out there on the field for the club.
MLSsoccer.com: Last offseason was very tumultuous for the Fire, with a lot of roster turnover and uncertainty heading into the season. How do you see this winter shaping up?
Klopas: We’re not in a situation where we feel we have to replace 18 players, you know? It’s different, it’s a different feeling, but we understand every player that you bring and every decision that you make is a key one because that impacts the quality on the field.
MLSsoccer.com: What’s the team’s main priority this offseason?
Klopas: With a lot of the new players, we’re not in situations where contracts are running out. I think we feel good that we have a good base. We’re going to be talking about options with players. In terms of needs right now, obviously you always look can we bring another forward that can score, so another forward and then maybe another player in the middle of the field, a two-way player, a box-to-box guy. Then always within the league, if there are opportunities to provide more depth and give a little bit more competition, we’ll look at those. Ideally, in every position, you’d like to have two solid players that you can count on. That’s the idea.
MLSsoccer.com: What are your expectations for next year? Is it playoffs or bust?
Klopas: We have to be in the playoffs. We need to be in the playoffs. It’s hard to say, “Yeah we want to win the championship,” but we need to get in the playoffs because that gives an opportunity to win it. All the time we have two goals that we talk about, two big picture goals: playoffs and always the US Open Cup.
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.