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Fire's Percovich brings attitude, harmony

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Chicago Fire assistant coach Leo Percovich can chew out someone in one moment and be the nicest guy in the next.

On one end of the spectrum, Percovich brings necessary energy to training, as well as a strong voice. That voice did land him a fine during the preseason's Carolina Challenge Cup, when he had a few choice things to say to the officials.


But on the other end of the spectrum, Percovich has gone out of his way to try to establish a sense of "harmony" within the club. During the preseason, Percovich purposely mixed and matched roommates from various countries so the Fire's heavily revamped lineup could get acclimated to one another before the season began.

"We have 11 or 12 nationalities on the team, different cultures, religions and habits," Percovich said. "You have to have the same character and same spirit on the team. That's very important for everybody to stay in the same habit. At the end of the preseason, we had a group where everybody knows everybody."

Percovich, who was an assistant coach at Toronto FC last season, is going to face his former team as the Fire travel to Toronto's BMO Field this Saturday with the hopes of erasing a six-game winless streak.

"I'm excited to come back and play against them," said Percovich, who assisted for Toronto under former head coach Preki. "Everybody you worked with and trained, it's always exciting."

The 43-year-old Percovich, a native of Montevideo, Uruguay, was added to Chicago's staff in January under head coach Carlos de los Cobos. Percovich enjoyed a 15-year professional career as a goalkeeper, with six games for Uruguay's national team.

In 2002, Percovich wanted to get involved in the coaching side, and he eventually made it into MLS in 2006, joining fellow Uruguayan Fernando Clavijo's staff with the Colorado Rapids as a goalkeeper coach.

"It was clear that I wanted to be a coach, and there's a very clear process for that," Percovich said. "I'm just doing my job and growing up in my career. I want to be a head coach one day, for sure. I have to be ready and learn as much as I can through this experience."

Following the Rapids, Percovich moved on to Chivas USA, where he was the goalkeeper coach for former Fire original Zach Thornton. During the 2009 season, Percovich helped rejuvenate Thornton's career as Thornton posted a career-best 12 shutouts, a 0.87 goals against average and garnered MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honors.

"He's a fantastic person," Percovich said of Thornton. "We were like brothers. Basically he came to me when he was 35 years old, and his best season he had was in 2009. That was a tremendous season, and I was very happy for him."

The Fire have several ties to Uruguay, which has a population that is roughly two-thirds the size of all of Cook County. As far as the pedigree of soccer in this South American country, Percovich says the style is different these days.

"The style of soccer in Uruguay has changed in the last 10 years," Percovich said. "When I was there, there were only good No. 10s and the rest were more physical, strong people. Now, players have more speed and more ability in their position. They are much more technical."

The Fire tapped into that market and acquired Uruguayan forwards Diego Chaves and Gaston Puerari during the offseason. From a salary standpoint, their additions have been a steal, especially team goal scoring leader Chaves. Chaves and Puerari are making a combined $95,000. Percovich was not familiar with them, but he instantly saw a familiar demeanor.

"I never met them before, but from the first time when we were together, you can identify with their routines," Percovich said. "The pride they have -- they never want to lose one ball, and that's a very typical characteristic of Uruguayan players. It's a small country, and the only thing you have is your name. So they want to preserve their name with that attitude and character. You've seen their talent and technique."

Percovich hopes to stamp his name in the coaching realm, though clearly this season has been a trying one for everyone involved with the Fire (1-3-4). Percovich and the Fire have created one thing, and that is truly a universal belief that the team's system will pan out.

Percovich says a maturity factor will be the ingredient in things turning around, though with a nearly a quarter of the season in the books, that element needs to come soon.

"We have to be more mature," Percovich said. "We have had three ties [in a row], and it takes maturity to preserve and control the time, the tempo and the possession. That didn't happen against Houston and we lost our heads. We knew what we were doing against Colorado, but they came after us and scored 4 minutes into the second half.

"We have to work at it, and we have the right attitude and talent. When you're under pressure and thinking of your job, it will come back and you'll start to win."