Chicago Fire: Taking the easy way out

Chicago is making little plans, it seems
Houston Dynamo v Chicago Fire - Quarterfinals: 2023 U.S. Open Cup
Houston Dynamo v Chicago Fire - Quarterfinals: 2023 U.S. Open Cup / Robin Alam/ISI Photos/USSF/GettyImages

There’s an old quote from comedian and director Bo Burnham.

“People love to say, ‘My fans stick with me through thick and thin.’ Do not stick with me through thick. If I stop entertaining you, throw me to the curb. You wouldn’t stick with your mechanic if he stopped fixing your car. This is a service industry.”

No, you’re not reading the article I published after the Chicago Fire re-signed sporting director Georg Heitz. The introduction is the same, sure, but that’s for a good reason.

The club decided to make another similar sort of move, this time on the coaching front. It’s no surprise that the reaction from supporters was the same as well.

Going again (for some reason)

Last Tuesday, the club announced that they had found their new head coach, who is the same as their old head coach. That man is Frank Klopas.

Let’s go through the fast facts before we get to the analysis. If Klopas is anything, he is a true club legend. He was a part of the original Chicago roster back in 1998, and he famously scored the game-winning goal in that year’s U.S. Open Cup final to secure the double.

After some time away, the former United States international returned to the team in 2008, first being a technical director before becoming their head coach years later. He was the interim for the second half of the 2011 campaign, and then he spent two years with the permanent title before stepping down.

Klopas then coached the Montreal Impact for another two seasons, but it wasn’t long until he was back with the Fire. He had another new role waiting for him, and that was as a commentator.

Following a short spell in the booth, he returned to the sidelines, this time serving as an assistant coach. The coach born in Greece had to step into the interim head coaching role once again to conclude the 2021 campaign, and then he was back to being second-in-command.

That takes us to this past season. Klopas started the year as an assistant under Ezra Hendrickson. When the latter struggled early on and was let go, Klopas was turned go for a third time to take over on a temporary basis.

Even though it was only the 1st week of May, Chicago announced that Klopas was going to be the interim manager for the remainder of the year. It was a strange decision at the time, but the reasoning from supporters was that this simply gave the club the maximum amount of time to find a suitable new manager.

In terms of the rest of the campaign, Klopas wasn’t awful or anything, but he wasn’t that great either. There was some good, like a run of six wins out of seven games in all competitions in the middle of the summer, and an incredible win at home against Inter Miami in front of a packed Soldier Field. There was also some bad, like a stretch of six losses in seven in all comps, and two losses to end the year.

The Fire could’ve snuck into the playoffs on Decision Day with a win, but they laid an egg in their final game, which led to them finishing the year in 13th place in the Eastern Conference.

Sure, the season was a disappointment with Klopas at the helm, but no one could really blame him for what happened. He was only there on a temporary basis anyway, and he wasn’t given the best roster to work with.

The search was now fully on for the new man in charge. Chicago had given themselves months and months to scout the globe, find potential candidates, and then decide who amongst them would be the best for the job.

Nearly seven months after originally firing Hendrickson, they had picked their man.

They chose Frank Klopas.


Let me go over that again just to make sure we’re all clear.

In May, the Fire named Klopas the interim head coach for the rest of the season, and they did this to make sure they had as much time as possible to find a replacement.

In October, Chicago missed the playoffs under Klopas, and were ultimately the 3rd-worst team in the East.

In December, Klopas was named the new permanent manager.

The Fire named an interim coach, missed the playoffs with that interim coach, and then gave him the permanent job.

That is objectively hilarious.

It’s a real signal of intent from the club, but in the worst way possible. When Chicago announced the re-signing of sporting director Georg Heitz, there was an argument that the club had stopped caring about winning games. That’s what my first article was about. However, at the very least, there was some counter-argument that Chicago was first building the infrastructure around everything on the field, which would then lead to a winning team.

Even that argument goes out the window with the re-signing of Klopas. He’s the head coach. His main job is to win games. He’s judged on his results. Sure, developing young players and having a good atmosphere at the club is nice, but if the team is losing then none of that matters.

As much as everyone loves him as a person, myself included, Klopas simply isn’t the answer at this point in time. We all saw that last season. His teams are incredibly inconsistent, and when it comes to the biggest moments, they fall flat. He’s too cautious against tougher opposition, and when you don’t have a solid backline, then you’re asking for trouble.

Let’s live in a hypothetical world where Klopas was never a Fire head coach. In this case, the hiring wouldn’t be such a terrible idea. They’d finally be giving a former player a chance as coach, and they’d be bringing in someone new with fresh ideas.

That’s what most fans wanted. Jesse Marsch and Jim Curtin were always a pipe dream, but Ante Razov seemed like a much more realistic option. Hell, they could’ve even called up Chris Armas.

The problem is everyone knows who Klopas is and how he is as a coach by now. Once again he’s not an awful manager at all, and he’s had some promising moments, including a few impressive cup runs. However, there’s a reason why his initial tenure with the Fire didn’t work out, why he was fired from Montreal, and why things didn’t go down well this past campaign.

His record in Chicago is 49-43-29, in win-loss-draw format. That’s remarkably average, and it’s bolstered by one quality season in 2012.

All things considered, it’s just a lazy and uninspired acquisition. The Fire could’ve done something exciting. They could’ve done something new. They could’ve done something big.

Instead, they took the easy way out. They went with what they knew. They took the safe option.

Chicago strays further and further away from their “make no little plans” tagline as the days go on.

Suspect search

The Fire did complete a comprehensive search for a new head coach.

There’s a quote from sporting director Georg Heitz that was put in the press release announcing Klopas’ hiring. “We conducted a thorough process with numerous well-qualified candidates, and we believe that Frank Klopas is the right person to lead the team.”

That’s all Chicago has said about the search, but there was a post from Chicago journalist Alex Calabrese that added some information.

That raises an important question. Were the Fire unable to land candidates that they felt were better than Klopas, or did they decide that Klopas was better than everyone else they could land? Could they not find someone that was genuinely better than Klopas?

In one way or another something went wrong during the coaching search.

Either no one better than Klopas wanted to come in, or Chicago legitimately thought that Klopas was still the best man for the job. Either no one wants them, or they want Klopas too much.

A real cynic would argue that the club simply settled for Klopas and never really looked for everyone else. That’d be too harsh, but there might be some reality to that take.

Everyone surrounding the Fire had two dream targets in mind, Jim Curtin and Jesse Marsch. That’s why the club initially gave themselves so much time to do their search. They were ready to throw everything at those two, and landing either one would’ve been a massive deal.

However, neither move panned out. Jim Curtin chose to stay with the Philadelphia Union, and while it’s unclear what Jesse Marsch is doing, it’s likely that he wants another job in Europe.

That wasn’t Chicago’s fault. Ownership probably tried their absolute best to get those guys, writing a blank check and promising a heroic return to their former club. They tried, it just didn’t work out.

What is the Fire’s fault is the fact that they didn’t have a proper backup plan. They swung for the fences, and struck out. They sold themselves way too short, and had to resort to their emergency option, Klopas.

Once again, Chicago spent seven months looking for a new coach, and ended up hiring the guy they already had.

Selling short

At the end of the day Klopas isn’t the worst coach this league has ever seen.

He’s not Phil Neville. He’s not Frank de Boer. Hell, he’s not even Veljko Paunović.

The issue with Klopas is that he has a very clear ceiling. He’ll get the team some results, and his focus on staying solid will help steal some surprising points against bigger teams. There’s not going to be a footballing revolution, though, like what happened with Wilfried Nancy at the Columbus Crew. That’s what the Fire needs.

There’s no real reason for fans to get excited. There’s a chance they’ll do better than expected, even finishing in a playoff spot if all goes well. That wouldn’t be thanks to this hire, though. It’d be more of a coincidence than anything. Things have to improve eventually, right?

There’s as big of a chance that this all blows up in their face. A slow start to the campaign would only increase the anger of supporters, and Klopas will likely be on a shorter leash since everyone knows what he’s about at this point.

There’s a non-zero chance he’s fired a few months into the season. Then what?

Chicago would probably just bring him back as an interim, to be fair.

All jokes aside, the Fire might be taking the “safe” option here, but this hiring is still a big risk. The fanbase is desperate to see their team win, and if not win, at least try.

Following recent decisions made by the club, they’re starting to feel like that isn’t the case anymore. Their hope and optimism will still rise as we go into next season, but those positive feelings will be wiped away entirely if things don’t start off well.

Everyone’s rooting for good ol’ uncle Frank Klopas. For now.