After the Fire's heartbreaking, penalty kick defeat to Real Salt Lake in the Eastern Conference Final last year, I passed by John Thorrington and his family in the Toyota Park tunnel. As I saw Thorrington - who had missed his penalty shot - from afar, the thought of what to say to him crept into my head. I decided that I would go for the cordial route; I would tell him that he had a great season and wish him the best of luck in the winter. But as I passed by Thorrington and saw that he was too disheartened to make eye contact with me, I decided that my well-wishes were best left for another time. I let him walk away into the November night in silence.
Fire Technical Director Frank Klopas felt Thorrington's pain. He may not have shown it in the same manner, but I remember seeing Frank after the Fire's final game and I got the sense that he was going to work this offseason to try and ensure that no one on the 2010 edition of the Fire would ever have to feel like Thorrington did. And Klopas did shake things up. He made big changes to the Fire's soccer philosophy, the roster, and staff. Here's a look at the most important of those changes: **November 24 - Denis Hamlett is let go**
> "If you look at it you can say, 'look the team [made] the conference final two years in a row,' but I think that there are a lot of things that go into this whole process. Managing the group, almost treating them like a psychologist [would], getting the best out of players, game management; those are all things that you can put into it."
> -Anonymous source close to the situation
I thought getting rid of Hamlett as head coach was the right move. I stick by that. Whether it was the way he handled his players or the way he managed the game, certain things just weren't quite right with Denis and Frank Klopas made the correct decision by letting him go.
**December 14th - Frank Klopas goes public with his desire to have the Fire play a more attacking style of soccer**
Early in the morning on December 14th, I wrote a post detailing my hope that the Fire would play a more attractive brand of soccer in 2010. Later that night, Charlie Corr published this gem of a quote:
> "First of all, the goal of the organization is to win a championship. The second thing is to win games and to play attractive and exciting soccer. The best way to fill those aims is to play offensive soccer, the kind of soccer based on tactical organization. The modern game includes dynamic movement off the ball and tactical ideas as a unit. These days you don't rely on one or two players. That's something that the coach brings together when you see the team on the field -- that they're together and in sync, moving quickly, with attacking ideas. That's the modern coach. That kind of style is our goal, and we are working toward accomplishing that. It might not happen in one week, or one month, but I've got a crystal clear idea of this team as a whole."
> -Frank Klopas
At the time, I was definitely all in for everything Frank said above. Now, well.... I'm less enthused. I still think that the Fire made the right move by going to a more attacking style of play; I just have a couple of doubts now. My main concern? That the Fire turns into D.C. United circa 2008/2009. D.C. perfectly epitomized a team committed to playing attacking soccer - and not getting the right results. United has failed to make the playoffs each of the last two seasons. Let's hope that the Fire's product turns out better...
**January 11th - Carlos de los Cobos is introduced as the Fire's next head coach**
> "The Fire's priority in the head coach search was to identify someone with a love for the game and a track record of quality results. Carlos' extensive soccer knowledge, experience and success as both a coach and player made him an ideal candidate, and we're excited he has decided to join the Fire family,"
> -Frank Klopas
De los Cobos has all the required qualities to be a head coach. He understands the game. He's on board with the club's tactical philosophy. The players seem to really like him.
But most importantly, de los Cobos seems like a cool guy. I think he'll be easy to talk to and I would be very surprised if he ever stole a sheet containing my interview questions for him out of my hand while I was interviewing him. Not that that has ever happened to me before. (NOTE - it's totally happened to me before...)
**January 14th - MLS SuperDraft**
MLS calling their rookie draft the SuperDraft is dumb. Like, really dumb. When I think of a SuperDraft, I think of rookies being called up to the stage by a cartoon Don Garber who doesn't hand the draftee a standard team scarf, but rather a cape with the club logo emblazoned on the back. A foolish image? Sure. But not as foolish as naming the entry draft for a professional sports league the SuperDraft.
Something you can't call foolish (how do you like that transition?) is the Fire's 2010 draft picks. Snagging Corben Bone, Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Sean Johnson could make this rookie class one of the Fire's best in years. Plus, a likely minimum of three rookies on the final roster means more guys for the veterans to boss around. It's pretty much a win-win.
**End of January - Fire bring in Krol and Martinez**
> "Julio is a true professional with a winner's mentality who will come in and help our team," said Coach de los Cobos. "I could not be happier about his signing and look forward to incorporating him in with the rest of the guys."
> -Carlos de los Cobos
> "Krzysztof is a solid defender who will make an immediate impact on the team with his style of play," said Fire technical director Frank Klopas. "We are very excited to have him join the club's roster and have the kind of impact on the Fire that he did with Jagiellonia."
> -Frank Klopas
With Chris Rolfe and Gonzalo Segares both leaving the Fire for the greener (as in money...) pastures of Europe, the Fire needed to find some replacements. Enter outside defender Krzysztof Krol and winger Julio Martinez. They're both talented youngsters who are hungry to impress, which is generally a winning combination. I like the moves.
**February 22nd - Fire release Austin Washington and Daniel Woolard**
Dropping two defenders at this point in the preseason seemed strange to me. Awfully strange. I was ok with the Fire dumping Washington, but the move to release Woolard - who has since gone on trial at D.C. United - puzzled me. I thought he did well in limited playing time last year and could have been an asset this season. Wrong move in my book.
**March 10th - Fire sign Collins John**
> "We are very excited to have Collins join the Chicago Fire. Collins is a talented player and he will be a great addition to the club. He is a quick and powerful forward with a nose for goal and we believe he will be a good fit to the attacking style we will play this season."
> -Frank Klopas
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I love this move. Though he has certainly struggled in recent years, I think John has what it takes to tear up MLS. From everything I've heard, John has been working hard - and working well with his teammates - in preseason training and looks primed for the upcoming season. He and McBride should form a potent strike tandem up top and the depth at forward looks much, much better with him in the fold.
Overall, I think the Fire can look back on this offseason and be proud of the moves they made. Some key players went elsewhere, but Klopas and his staff did a nice job of replacing them and creating a tactical philosophy that complements the players on the roster. The front office has put the team in a good position to make another deep playoff run.