Chicago Fire: Frank Klopas

This year's playoff squad molded by Klopas

October, 30, 2012

Frank KlopasNed Dishman/Getty ImagesBefore Frank Klopas took over as coach, he put this Fire squad together.

BRIDGEVILLE, Ill. -- Frank Klopas had two options when the Chicago Fire began the 2011 season with a 1-4-6 record.

One, Klopas could have resigned. The team was coached by Carlos de los Cobos, but a bulk of the roster was assembled by Klopas, who was hired as the team’s technical director in January of 2008. He also bore responsibility for the Fire’s lack of success.

The other option was for him to fire de los Cobos and take over the coaching duties himself. If he truly believed in the players, Klopas would prove the Fire were better than what they had proven under de los Cobos.

Staying true to his personality, Klopas chose the latter. He’s never shied away from a soccer challenge.

“Some guys really don’t want to step up and take (penalty kicks,)” Klopas said after practice on Tuesday. “I always wanted to take them. Every situation is an opportunity. You can’t look at the worst-case scenario. You won’t go anywhere like that. I’d rather attempt it and miss than never go out there and never take the chance.”

When it came to coaching, Klopas took the chance and the Fire have been rewarded for it. In 2011, Klopas became the interim head coach, and the Fire just missed the playoffs by three points. In 2012 as the permanent coach, Klopas directed the Fire to the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and they will host the Houston Dynamo at Toyota Park on Wednesday.

(Read full post)

Fire coach Frank Klopas, Dominic Oduro and Pavel Pardo discuss their upcoming game against Houston and Arne Friedrich discusses making his MLS debut.

Fire make interim coach Klopas permanent

November, 3, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Frank Klopas was picked as the Chicago Fire's head coach on Thursday, five months after he got the job on an interim basis when the Major League Soccer club got off to a bad start.

Read the entire story.

New role is personal for Fire's Klopas

May, 31, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Chicago Fire technical director and now interim head coach Frank Klopas wears his Fire passion at the highest level.

Klopas' soccer roots are embedded within the Fire organization and the city of Chicago, and he wants to see this club return to its glory years that he experienced as a player. But Klopas also is responsible for assembling the bulk of this year's Fire squad, which has posted a 1-4-6 record this season under recently fired head coach Carlos de los Cobos.

Klopas did not want to take the coaching reigns, but this assignment is personal.

"I'm going to do everything possible to make sure that when I was technical director to do the work to bring the right players here, and now as a coach, to make sure that myself and the staff do everything humanly possible to prepare the guys and give them every opportunity to be successful," Klopas said. "Then I can walk away with my head high and say I've done everything possible that I could. Then I will feel good about it."

The Fire dismissed De los Cobos on Monday, and the team is in the midst of a nine-game winless streak heading into Saturday's match against Seattle Sounders FC at Toyota Park.

Klopas said that the decision to let go of De los Cobos -- which was made on Sunday and announced the following day -- was an ongoing evaluation following a playoff-less 2010 and a one-win start to 2011.

You cannot fault the Fire for giving De los Cobos enough time to adapt to MLS. He had 41 matches under his belt.

"In Greece, I had a coach that they hired, and before preseason was over they fired the guy," said Klopas, a native of Greece. "It was crazy. They paid the guy a couple million dollars. Why didn't they hire me?"

De los Cobos met with the Fire earlier in the day in his final gathering with his former players.

"It takes some pretty strong character to show up in front of a big group that decided to let you go and face your former players," Fire captain and defensive midfielder Logan Pause said. "He thanked the guys and he thanked everyone for the opportunity. We all wished him well."

Klopas said Tuesday that the Fire will not make drastic changes as far as their attacking approach on the pitch. Set-piece defending is one specific focal point that Klopas wants to see some drastic improvement.

"This is not the time when you are experimenting stuff," Klopas said. "You do stuff like this in preseason, when you have two months to be trying to figure things out. I think we just have to fine tune certain things. If you look at every game, I think that as a team we have created opportunities. This team always scores goals. On the other hand, we have allowed a lot of goals."

Klopas headed his first training session on Tuesday. As the week progresses, tweaks to the system certainly will arise. Fire defender and midfielder Gonzalo Segares said there will be reinforcement about tape studying -- focused both at their own tendencies and the tendencies of their opponents.

In the grand scheme, however, the Fire's success boils down to work ethic and game-day execution.

"Things don't change from our end," Pause said. "I think we need to work harder. I think we need to work more intelligently on the training field. And I think I can help continue to move that forward. But in terms of my job, it's to help the team however I can on the field. That's not really going to change too much."

The Fire's poor record ultimately paved the way to De los Cobos' departure, and perhaps the coaching switch will serve as another wake-up call as Chicago attempts to rectify the worst start in team history.

"Maybe some guys felt that they didn't get an opportunity with Carlos, and others did," Segares said. "I'm sure guys will try harder to show they belong in the starting 11 and raise the intensity in practices. There's going to be more hitting and stuff like that, which is good. I like that. Maybe we need some of that."

Fire add Oduro, Cuesta, trade Carr

March, 23, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire added some new pieces to the puzzle on Wednesday with the acquisition of forward Dominic Oduro and Colombian defender Yamith Cuesta.

The Fire sent a 2012 MLS Supplemental Draft selection to Chivas USA for Cuesta's rights. And Chicago sent forward Calen Carr, a 2006 draft pick who spent his first five MLS seasons with the Fire, to the Houston Dynamo for the 25-year-old Oduro. Carr missed last weekend's 1-1 draw against FC Dallas because of a concussion.

Oduro, a native of Accra, Ghana, tallied five goals last year for the Dynamo. He is expected to join the Fire for Thursday's training session.

"His most important quality is speed," Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said of Oduro on Wednesday following training. "He's very fast. This is a quality that makes the difference sometimes in the game. He's coming to strengthen our front line of attackers."

"It depends on how Carlos wants to play him, but I think he can play out wide because he's got a lot of pace, and he can also play up top," Fire technical director Frank Klopas said. "It just depends. It gives you some different options."

The Fire focused heavily on securing a strong defensive back line during the offseason, and they bring in another young player, 21-year-old Cuesta, who already has MLS experience and debuted for Colombian First Division side Santa Fe in 2007. Cuesta also played for the Colombian U-20 national team in 2009, netting a goal in three games.

"Cuesta really, really surprised me because he's a young player, but with a strong personality," De los Cobos said. "I like this guy because even if he's very young, he showed how he's maturing in this moment. He's very strong, he's good with the ball, and I'm happy with Cuesta because I'm sure that he can help us during the season. We are trying to create a very solid block on defense, and I'm sure he will be part of this block."

"He's a young player that has good feet for a big guy," Klopas said. "He's fast, and technically he's very good. He's someone that our coaching staff knew very well, and we knew him because he was in the league. ... He's another guy who provides a lot of depth for us in the back line -- a guy that's young, that you can keep him around for a while."

With Cuesto being either a center back or right back, it creates a logjam of players on that side of the pitch. Rookie Jalil Anibaba started at right back and had a successful preseason and opening match against Dallas, and Josip Mikulic plays at center back on the three-man back line and right-center on a four-man line.

The left side of the defense is a different story. Veteran Cory Gibbs has been on the outside in the three-back formation, and Gonzalo Segares drops back from the midfield in a four-back setup. But beyond that, the Fire are thin. Bratislav Ristic has played at left back, but his health is in question heading into Saturday's home opener against Sporting Kansas City because of a quad injury following the Dallas match. Midfielder Mike Banner, who also has dropped to left back on occasion, missed last Saturday's opener with Achilles tendinitis.

"He's on the treadmill a little bit, so it's been a good sign," Klopas said of Banner's progress. "It's just a tough [injury] because it's an area that you just don't know. It's just day by day with him getting better. We're all hoping for the best, but I couldn't tell you if he's starting to train next week. I couldn't say that."

The Fire (0-0-1) host K.C. (1-0-0) on Saturday at Toyota Park, and it is early to determine if there are other specific areas that the Fire technical staff wants to address further. The potential addition of a forward continues to be a major talking point.

"We've been talking about that. The one thing we're going back and forth is forward," Klopas said. "We saw Diego [Chaves], and he's going to be a very good player in this league. We have a lot of options now on top. Do we bring in another guy up top, or do we look to see if there's a need somewhere else? We do have some options everywhere. We just have to see what the best option for the team is."

Pause's role magnified with Fire

November, 11, 2010
Hidden behind the retirements of Chicago Fire defender C.J. Brown and forward Brian McBride, defensive midfielder Logan Pause quietly had a noteworthy individual 2010 season.

On Thursday, former Fire and current U.S. National Team head coach Bob Bradley called up Pause to the squad for a friendly against South Africa. And earlier in the week the Fire dished out their team awards, with Pause earning the most valuable player honor.

"Obviously I'm humbled by the award, and that's very nice for all those who participated in the voting process," Pause said. "But it's a tough one for me to truly enjoy. When your team doesn't make the playoffs, I consider how the team's body of work is a direct reflection of me. And I feel personally that I'm still in a spot where I can get better. I'm healthy and I continue to learn every day. Those things have been bright. But that's a tough award to accept when you don't make the playoffs."

With the leadership of Brown and McBride no longer with the Fire, this team will be searching for someone to take on the captain role. And whether head coach Carlos de los Cobos decides to give Pause a game-time armband next year, Pause is Chicago's de facto captain simply for being a part of the Fire system for eight seasons now.

Logan Pause
George Frey/Getty ImagesLogan Pause will need to be a veteran leader for the Fire next season.

"I'm not the coach, but Logan does have those kinds of qualities, for sure," technical director Frank Klopas said. "I think that a lot of times he's a guy that doesn't stand out. When you evaluate every game and the hard work this guy does, the running, the balls he wins, the sacrifices, he knows his role. He's not the flashiest guy, but he's a great leader on the field."

"I don't need a title or a label, but I feel like as I've played more and more years for the Fire, that also comes with bigger responsibilities," Pause said. "That is becoming a leader, setting a good example and representing the team as I've developed over my career. I'm not going to do anything different than what I have been doing. It's not up to one point person to be the captain. But in terms of looking on paper and C.J. and Brian retiring -- two veteran players -- I do have the responsibility to help this team."

The Fire have had some time to reflect on this past season, all the while continuing to train over the course of the MLS playoffs. Pause firmly believes that the lack of attention to detail was a factor in Chicago's shortcomings this year.

"It's not just a light switch you can flip on," Pause said. "That's one of the big things as a group that we need to change and improve. Everything from improving individually and as a group, we need to pay attention to detail, and those are things that need to be worked on in training."

And Pause thought Brown, who was honored earlier this week for his 13-year career, exemplified this missing component from the 2010 Fire.

"He was one of the most consistent players I've ever played with," Pause said. "I go back to attention to detail -- he's one of the guys that got it. He represented the club as well as anyone and represented how to play the game the right way -- the integrity, the work ethic, constantly learning to the last day that he was in the locker room, and he made his teammates better."

However the results arrive, the Fire know they have to make a quick turnaround following one of their worst seasons in team history.

"We're in a profession of results," Pause said. "For us as players, at times we'll grind out a win or play excellent in a loss. It doesn't have anything to do with our style of play. In the games we have looked good, I don't think we did anything out of the ordinary. We just have to play better."

With Matkovich out, will Brown assist Fire?

October, 28, 2010
With the Chicago Fire's first offseason move, the team fired assistant coach Mike Matkovich on Thursday after the organization posted a 9-12-9 record and missed the playoffs under first-year head coach Carlos de los Cobos.

The Naperville native's soccer background in the Chicago area spanned a variety of areas -- from the head of the Chicago Fire Reserves, to directing the Chicago Magic youth soccer club, to assisting the Chicago Power professional indoor soccer team in the early 1990s.

Matkovich originally joined the Fire before the 2009 MLS season to replace Chris Armas, who decided to leave the organization to return to New York. Also on Thursday, the team released fitness specialist Alvaro Briones.

"This was a difficult decision for the club to make," Fire technical director Frank Klopas said in a statement. "Everyone at the Fire has tremendous respect for Mike and Alvaro. However, we have decided to go in another direction."

The Fire will have their list of candidates to fill Matkovich's position, and it would make sense for Chicago to take a hard look at keeping recently retired defender C.J. Brown in an assistant role.

During his retirement announcement one week ago, Brown mentioned his desire for this type of position. He currently coaches the Chicago Fire Juniors, and his knowledge of the organization is unmatched.

"I would love to stay in MLS and coach in MLS," Brown said on Oct. 21. "I think I can help drive kids to be better professionals, and also I feel like I've been in the league long enough to know what it takes to win. I think I could help out in many ways."

Armas went from 12-year MLS veteran through 2007, officially retired after the season, then was named a Fire assistant coach in January 2008.

It would not be surprising to see the organization take a similar approach with Brown following Thursday's announcement.

Brown to be honored: The Fire announced earlier in the week that they and Section 8 Chicago will honor Brown's 13-year career on Nov. 9 at The Pitch, 2142 N. Clybourn Ave., in Chicago. The event starts at 6:30 p.m., and the organization will hand out its annual team awards. Logan Pause was named the team's most valuable player, with Brown earning defender of the year, Marco Pappa the golden boot and Dasan Robinson the humanitarian of the year.

Fire face another tumultuous offseason

October, 27, 2010
The Chicago Fire knew what hand they were dealt after the 2009 MLS season.

They knew that Chris Rolfe would not be returning. They knew Gonzalo Segares wanted to try to play overseas. They knew that Cuauhtemoc Blanco would be out of the picture. They knew they wanted a different style of play and bid adieu to Denis Hamlett.

Chicago's hectic offseason came as no surprise.

But after a 2010 campaign with coaching staff adjustments and personnel changes from last offseason through this year's midseason, the question now is how hectic will this offseason be?

Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos, technical director Frank Klopas and owner Andrew Hauptman all have stated the brand of soccer they want on the pitch. The execution and translation resulted in only the second season in team history outside of the playoff picture.

"They have an idea of what they wanted to do. It's just we haven't been able to accomplish it and play to the standard that [De los Cobos] wants," retiring Fire defender C.J. Brown said toward the end of the season. "That's frustrating from a player's standpoint. You want to impress your coach. The guys just haven't been able to do that. I think there is an identity. It's just we're not putting it on the field the way they want it to be."

Brown's retirement creates an opening at central defense, and Brian McBride's retirement creates a hole up front. The futures of Freddie Ljungberg and Wilman Conde are uncertain at the moment, and Ljungberg ought to be the team's top priority in bringing him back.

One thing this team desperately needed this year was a sense of continuity. The Fire spent all year toying with their roster like a glob of Silly Putty.

"The continuity of players is very important," Klopas said. "They need to have a good understanding of the system. We were impacted with injuries, and we were not really able to find that core."

Some rumblings arose during the Fire's struggles about the possibility of De los Cobos returning to El Salvador. But as things stand, De los Cobos is set to enter his second season for the Fire in 2011.

"All I can say is that Carlos is committed. I know that he's committed," Klopas said. "He's a guy where this season doesn't sit well with him because we're not in the playoffs."

Brown felt the team's shortcomings were more mental than anything else.

"A lot of it this year, I don't think it was anything about skill, because we have skillful players," Brown said. "I think a lot of it was mental. We made a lot of mental mistakes this year, and I think we need to watch more video and study ourselves a little bit more and try to correct our own little mental mistakes."

That argument certainly holds true for the Fire's string of last-minute goals. Nevertheless, Chicago invested in the likes of Nery Castillo and Collins John -- two incredibly under-performing players this year. Chicago's 2010 MLS All-Stars Marco Pappa and Conde have the talent, but they need to consistently perform at a high level.

Change is a given in MLS, but as an organization you need to get to that point where you know your base of starters and key bench personnel. Continuity was a huge reason why Hamlett's Fire posted conference final appearances in his two seasons at the helm.

No matter how stacked or unstacked the Fire's talent level is, a personnel carousel will slow down the execution of the team's soccer vision. And it remains to be seen if Klopas and De los Cobos are confident enough in what they have in place.

"That's got to come from the coaches, what they feel they're missing or what they want," Brown said. "If [De los Cobos] wants to play a possession game, we have to get a lot of players who can handle playing a possession game."

Fire shake up defense, Segares returns

August, 6, 2010

Gonzalo Segares
Warren Wimmer/The Chicago Sports Review MagazineThe Chicago Fire brought back Gonzalo Segares on Friday. Segares was with the Fire from 2005-2009.

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire have brought back outside defensive back Gonzalo Segares, the team announced Friday, a few hours after announcing the trade of defender Tim Ward to the San Jose Earthquakes.

Following the Fire's 2009 season, Segares signed with Greek club Apollon Limassol, where he played in 12 matches en route to a fourth-place finish in the Cypriot First Division.

"We are excited to have Gonzalo rejoin the Chicago Fire," Fire technical director Frank Klopas said in a statement. "Gonzalo is a dynamic and talented player who will make a great addition to the club."

Before his brief move overseas, Segares was with the Fire from 2005 to 2009, and the 27-year-old Costa Rican established himself as a stable left-side defender who had an impact both on the defensive and offensive thirds of the pitch. His 2009 season was cut short substantially by an MCL sprain, forcing him to miss several months at the end of the campaign.

The decision to bring back Segares is a no-brainer. But of all of Chicago's new offseason signings, Krzysztof Krol has shown the most positive results while manning the left back slot during Segares' absence.

Earlier in the day, the Fire traded Ward to the San Jose Earthquakes in return for a conditional selection in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. Ward entered the 2010 season as a potential regular starter at right defensive back. But between injuries and poor play, Ward did not see much of the pitch this year. He started in only six matches while Dasan Robinson earned slightly more playing time in the right back role. Additionally, 2010 draft pick Steven Kinney has shown promise at the position in limited action.

Ward had a breakout 2009 campaign with Chicago, setting career highs with 19 starts and three assists before breaking his toe in the '09 SuperLiga final against Tigres UANL. Ward reunites with former Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch, who was released by Chicago just before the start of the 2010 season but picked up by the Quakes. San Jose and Chicago meet up one more time this season at Buck Shaw Stadium on Sept. 29.

Ljungberg's job unfinished in MLS

August, 4, 2010
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Chicago Fire midfielder and designated player Freddie Ljungberg typically has not moved around too much throughout his professional soccer career.

Freddie Ljungberg
Courtesy of Chicago FireFreddie Ljungberg could stay in Chicago for quite a while.

So while the recent acquisition of Ljungberg appears to be quick fix to mold a championship-caliber season, Ljungberg said Wednesday that Chicago could also turn into a long-term option down the line.

"I definitely hope so," Ljungberg said. "When I went to America I really wanted to try to make a difference and see if soccer can establish itself as a big sport. And here, I think this is a perfect opportunity to do that. I'm going to try to do as well as I can and try to be a good ambassador for the Fire."

Ljungberg made his move to MLS and debuted with then-expansion Seattle Sounders FC last year. Ljungberg says he has weighed many options to either stay in the U.S. or go back overseas, and the Sweden midfielder wants to finish his task here in MLS.

"When I came to America, a lot of people said I was mad because I was too young to go and said I should have kept on playing and winning things in Europe," Ljungberg said. "I feel like I haven't done enough here yet and I want to do more -- win the [MLS] Cup, that would be nice.

"There was a lot of interest from Europe and in America, as well," he said. "I said I need to make a decision. I'm 33 years old and I need to make a decision with what I want to do. ... Chicago was very persistent in approaching me."

Ljungberg said that a couple weeks ago Fire owner Andrew Hauptman and technical director Frank Klopas started courting Ljungberg to make the move to Chicago. Apparently they made a successful pitch.

"Andrew said he is a winner and he wants to be in it to win things," Lungberg said of his talks with Hauptman and Klopas. "There's nothing else on his mind. We want to get winners in and go for it. They brought in [Nery] Castillo a couple days before me. [Hauptman] wants to build a great team and wants me to help them. The way he sold it, I thought, was great."

Ljungberg's tenure at Seattle ended prematurely, with his Sounders contract ending this November. Ljungberg said he did not having a falling out with the Sounders organization, but in a matter of weeks Chicago acquired Ljungberg for either a 2011 or 2012 MLS SuperDraft conditional selection.

"I always wanted to play for the team and train for the team," Ljungberg said. "That was the management, or the coaches, [who said] that I shouldn't train while that was going on [with my ankle injury]. ... No bad blood. They are still my friends."

Ljungberg only has one Fire training session and a second-half portion of a win over the Los Angeles Galaxy under his belt with Chicago. But he is eager to contribute toward a group that has needed some midfield experience and stability this season.

"I think it looks good," Ljungberg said of the Fire personnel on board in the midfield. "I think the important thing is to try and keep the ball as much as you can -- that's what the coach wants, to be a dominating team. And we have some great players that can make a difference. Like Patrick [Nyarko], [he] has a lot of speed, and I can try to play him in behind the lines, make him use his speed. [Collins] John and [Brian] McBride are big boys. They can hold up the ball and help us out. So I think it's going to be great."

Fire president Greeley steps down

August, 4, 2010
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire announced Wednesday that president Dave Greeley is officially stepping down on Aug. 31, indicating in a release that he wants to "focus on some other opportunities and interests."

"The past two years have been intensely rewarding for me professionally, and I am forever grateful to [owner] Andrew Hauptman for giving me this opportunity," Greeley said in a statement. "To be a part of the Fire's short, but sweet, history and the overall ascension of soccer here in America has been exciting."

Fire technical director Frank Klopas did not wish to clarify any details outside of the team's release as to what Greeley's future plans are implied at the end of the Fire's statement, simply saying that "he's a good man and a good person, and I wish him nothing but the best."

Javier Leon, the managing director of Andell Sports Group, is assuming the day-to-day management responsibilities of the organization. Leon was an interim club president in 2008 following the departure of John Guppy.

U.S.'s roster set for Brazil: Former Fire and current U.S. Men's National Team head coach Bob Bradley announced his 18-player roster for the Americans' Aug. 10 match against Brazil in East Rutherford, N.J. (7 p.m., ESPN2). Included on the squad is former Fire defender and U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra, who played in every minute during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

"This game is a great opportunity to showcase many players from the World Cup team who earned the respect and appreciation of fans across the country," Bradley said in a statement. "At the same time, our goal continues to be to compete and succeed against the best teams in the world. With an extremely talented group of players, Brazil will be another difficult test."

Fire upgrade midfield, trade for Ljungberg

July, 30, 2010
The Chicago Fire continued to make some strong personnel upgrades with the acquisition of midfielder Freddie Ljungberg from Seattle Sounders FC on Friday.

Chicago traded a conditional selection in the 2011 or 2012 MLS SuperDraft for Lungberg, marking the first-ever trade of a designated player in the history of the league.

Ljungberg has been on the MLS injury report for the past several weeks with an ankle sprain. But the team said that he is expected to be an available roster option for head coach Carlos de los Cobos when Chicago takes on the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday in Carson, Calif.

"I have been thinking long and hard about the next step in my career, and I am extremely happy to become the newest member of the Chicago Fire," Ljungberg said in a statement. "I had a very long and exciting meeting with Fire owner Andrew Hauptman and technical director Frank Klopas. Their vision and commitment to this club, and to winning championships, was extremely appealing to me."

The Fire had an open roster spot when they traded midfielder Justin Mapp to the Philadelphia Union for allocation money.

Ljungberg, 33, brings some immediate and much-needed stability and experience in Chicago's midfield. The native of Sweden spent the majority of his professional career with Arsenal from 1998 to 2007, spent some time with West Ham United and then joined the Seattle Sounders for their MLS debut last year.

"Freddie is an exceptional player with world-class talent, and we are thrilled to have him join the Chicago Fire," Klopas said. "He is a player with an illustrious career, and as an attacking player he will help us toward our goal of bringing the MLS Cup to Chicago."

Ljungberg is the third designated player in the Fire's history. Chicago's first DP was midfielder Cuauhtemoc Blanco from 2007-2009, and the squad recently signed Mexican international forward Nery Castillo.

Fire's Castillo an answer, not a deliverer

July, 29, 2010
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire officially introduced Mexican forward and designated player Nery Castillo at a press conference Thursday, and head coach Carlos de los Cobos made a proper point.

"Nery is not here to be a savior of the team. He's here to add to the team," De los Cobos said through a translator. "He's here to take part in the team. He will be an important part, and I'm sure that he is 100 percent committed to helping the team. One player cannot change the face or change the dynamic of the team, so we've got to continue working."

Nery Castillo
Chicago FireForward Nery Castillo, second from left, shows off his new jersey alongside Fire technical director Frank Klopas, head coach Carlos de los Cobos and Javier Leon, Managing Director of Andell Sports Group.

The Fire recently signed Castillo as the organization's second designated player, following in the footsteps of fellow Mexican midfielder Cuauhtemoc Blanco who played for Chicago from 2007-2009. Castillo does not have Blanco's iconic status in his homeland and abroad, but the 26-year-old is obviously expected to be a game-changing figure for Chicago as the team tries to improve its 4-5-5 record heading into the second half of the MLS season.

As Fire technical director Frank Klopas has mentioned on many occasions, the process to get Castillo took more than two years, with the first meeting taking place while Castillo was playing for Manchester City. When the Fire went back to him again, Castillo decided he would be on board.

"When the opportunity rose again and they showed interest in me, I didn't think twice about it," Castillo said. "And I knew that I was coming to a place where the coach played with my father, which was important for me, that I could be able to receive a lot of support from that standpoint."

Thursday marked Castillo's training debut with the Fire. He is trying to get acclimated to the team and adjust to the time and a new setting. Castillo is quickly trying to get up to speed to make himself available as soon as possible for the Fire.

The timing of his debut remains to be seen as the Fire prepare for Sunday's road match against the Los Angeles Galaxy.

"It will be the coach's decision," Castillo said. "He'll be evaluating my training and he's the person that will make that decision."

Early on, Castillo will be mentioned in the same breath as Blanco for the sheer facts that they have worn the designated player tag and have represented Mexico at an international level. But Castillo is supposed to be in the prime of his playing career. Blanco's playing time -- now with Mexican second-division Irapuato -- is numbered.

"I know he was a very important player at this club, a very important player in Mexico and a very important player with the Mexican National Team," Castillo said of Blanco. "And I hope to do as much as he did, if not more -- win championships and bring titles here to Chicago."

"I feel strongly that the characteristics of this player will be a good complement to our team," De los Cobos said. "It falls in line with the characteristics that I try to instill. It will be very good for the club."

Fire 'not happy' nearing midway point

July, 28, 2010
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire are an under-.500 club (4-5-5) that posted only one non-league victory this season in a disappointing showing at the U.S. Open Cup, Sister Cities and SuperLiga.

Chicago made some needed personnel changeover with the departure of several key players following 2009. But up to this stage, things have not panned out.

"It's hard to try to keep the group, because you have a salary cap, people have other dreams and goals," Fire technical director Frank Klopas said. "You attempt to keep guys here, but it's not always easy. It happened to us, obviously. We had a very good team in the past two seasons, and we fell short."

The new group, however, has not performed well. Forward Collins John has only one goal, Salvadoran midfielder Julio Martinez was signed and released, Salvadoran defender Deris Umanzor struggled early but has looked more comfortable of late -- particularly in the midfield, and the handling of the team's goalkeeper situation before the season was puzzling.

With the turnaround, it was expected that it might take some time for everything to fit into place. But the Fire were not expecting a middle-of-the-pack performance in the Eastern Conference.

"Of course we're not happy," Klopas said. "I think there have been good moments in games where we've played very well. In every game, we're in the game. We have moments where we create opportunities, played well, stayed organized as a group and created a lot of chances. We just haven't been able to put them away."

Chicago is attempting to compensate for some moves that have not worked out through 14 regular-season games. The Fire recently signed Mexican Nery Castillo as a designated player and traded midfielder Justin Mapp to the Philadelphia Union for allocation money.

"Justin was not a starting player for the team," Klopas said. "I think we all can talk about the talent and potential, but at some point I think the last couple years, when you see it the production just hasn't been there. And it's the same this year. He's a great guy off the field and a great personality, but I just felt that we needed to move on."

With an open roster spot now available, Klopas is not tipping his hand as to specific future signings or another designated player. But he does want to see some versatility in the personnel decision.

"We need more players that can be dynamic going forward and give us more options," Klopas said. "Also guys within this league that you feel can play different positions and adjust, whether they can play up top, you can move them in the middle, just to be more flexible like that."

An array of injuries also set back this club. In fact, the Fire roster was limited to 15 players for Chicago's final SuperLiga match against Pumas UNAM, forcing head coach Carlos de los Cobos to dig deep into his bench.

"You've seen a lot of maturity and growth with a lot of players that have gotten opportunities for the first time to play, and have stepped up," Klopas said. "And that I'm confident about and I feel good about."

Offer in Conde's hands: The Fire made and extension offer to defender and 2010 MLS All-Star Wilman Conde, and Klopas said it is now in Conde's hands. "It's a great situation here. We made him a very good offer and we'd love to have him here," Klopas said. "But it's his decision. This club has been great for him, and I think he understands it. He likes Chicago. We've done our part."

Nyarko working his way back for L.A.: Midfielder Patrick Nyarko was out for several weeks because of concussion-like symptoms, forcing him to literally take a three-week break with no workouts of any kind. But he resumed training Monday and is confident that he is on course for Sunday's Galaxy matchup. "I completed all the fitness drills [Monday] and came back [Tuesday]. My touches were decent enough, not great," Nyarko said. "As expected, I'm getting back into it, and hopefully the next couple of days I can fine-tune my touch and get a little bit of fitness back for the weekend."

Defender Umanzor officially signs with Fire

April, 8, 2010
The Chicago Fire announced on Thursday that Salvadoran defender Deris Umanzor signed with the team.

Umanzor spent the past five seasons with Club Deportivo Aguila in El Salvador, and was a regular starter for El Salvador's national team when Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos headed the squad from 2007 to 2009.

"We are excited to have Deris Umanzor join the Chicago Fire," Fire technical director Frank Klopas said in a statement. "Umanzor will provide depth in the Fire defense. He brings additional experience to our back line."

As of Thursday afternoon, Umanzor will not be available for Saturday's home opener, when Chicago hosts the San Jose Earthquakes at 7:30 p.m. at Toyota Park in Bridgeview. The team is awaiting his International Transfer Certificate.

Sueno heads to Montrose Park: Sueno MLS, a national soccer player search, is coming to Chicago's Montrose Park, 600 W. Montrose Ave., on Saturday and Sunday. Pre-registration is full, but interested players can still sign up in person to be included on a walk-up list, starting at 8 a.m. Saturday. Sueno MLS participants must be between the ages of 14 and 18. There is no cost to participate. For more information, visit Last year's Sueno MLS winner was midfielder Alberto Lopez of Aurora, Ill.