Monday, August 8, 2011
Fire's payoff minimal under coaching switch
By Charlie Corr
Chicago Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas and former head coach Carlos de los Cobos have been at the helm for 11 games apiece this year. So this is an opportune moment to take a look at how things have changed -- or not changed -- under their leadership this season.
De los Cobos was fired on May 30 after 11 matches and a 1-4-6 record (nine points). He was dismissed following a 0-4-5 stretch that included a winless May against teams such as the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto FC and the San Jose Earthquakes.
Klopas has not fared much better. As the interim head coach for the Fire's past 11 matches, the team is 1-3-7 (10 points). His club is dead last in the Eastern Conference with a 2-7-13 record and 19 points. And with a double-digit points deficit separating Chicago from a playoff position based on the current standings, the Fire likely will miss the postseason for a second straight year.
That notion cannot be sitting well with the Fire brass -- the likelihood of being one of only eight teams on the outside of MLS's expanded playoffs system.
Klopas' side had a modest stretch in June and July where the Fire posted a 1-0-6 mark. Since then, though, Chicago has a 0-3-1 record and has shown an extreme lack of consistency. This past week included a positive effort (albeit a 1-1 draw) against the Philadelphia Union last Wednesday, followed by their worst defensive performance of the season against Vancouver in a 4-2 loss on Sunday.
Fire captain Logan Pause dismissed any fatigue factor from having to play two matches in a five-day stretch.
"I don't think anyone would or should say that was the reason [for Sunday's loss]," Pause said. "We came off a pretty solid performance on Wednesday, and then [Sunday] we definitely played like the last-place team."
From a results standpoint, there really is only one clear-cut category where the Fire had shown improvement during Klopas' tenure, and that is the defense. This might not be the best time to state this considering Chicago's horrendous four-goals-allowed effort against Vancouver. But despite that match, the Fire have allowed only 11 goals in 11 games under Klopas. Chicago gave up 19 goals in De los Cobos' first 11 matches this season.
Other than that, Chicago has not made any positive strides in the standings. The offensive output has taken a massive hit under Klopas, with the team posting only eight goals during his tenure versus 15 goals under De los Cobos this year. The Fire also have not earned a victory at Toyota Park with Klopas at the helm.
Chicago has created its share of scoring chances, and the Fire have had some stretches of possession. But those traits gloss over the reality that this team has not had a consistent finisher.
The Fire have talked all season about the difficulties of trying to gel with a revamped group and a young roster. But MLS's newest teams have quickly adjusted and shown stretches of success.
The second-year Philadelphia Union has turned into one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, and Peter Nowak's club has led the East standings on several occasions. Third-year Seattle Sounders FC currently is in the top third of the Western Conference and is the league's top spectator draw. And this year's two expansion teams, the Portland Timbers and Vancouver, posted a combined 3-0-1 record against the Fire.
Coaching changes aside, when the Fire's 2011 season is in the books, the focus has to be on the organization's handling of its personnel. And that falls on Klopas and his staff's technical side of the job.
The Fire dropped the ball in the offseason when they did not address their glaring central midfield need. Now Chicago has Sebastian Grazzini, and he is rushing to gain full fitness in a matter of several weeks.
The Fire did come out on the positive end by trading Calen Carr for Dominic Oduro, who netted his team-leading sixth goal Sunday. But Oduro's final touch still is an issue, and he was not Chicago's original attacking option in the first place.
The Fire were touting their Uruguayan tandem of Diego Chaves and Gaston Puerari heading into the season. Puerari showed promise but netted only one goal and was transferred to Club Atlas. Chaves had four goals in the Fire's first six games. But he has yet to find the back of the net since his April 23 tally against the Houston Dynamo. Klopas also publicly talked about fitness being an issue with Chaves in late June.
The tone of the Fire's season would be drastically different if Chicago turned some of its league-leading 13 draws into wins. Things would be different if Orr Barouch and the Fire did not hit the woodwork so frequently.
But close does not cut it in this results-driven business, and the Fire have not delivered for a second straight campaign.