Fire owner Andrew Hauptman remains optimistic about the club's chances to compete for a playoff position this season despite the team's 1-4-6 start and feels that under the direction of interim coach Frank Klopas the team can improve. Hauptman was also complimentary of now former coach Carlos De Los Cobos although his hiring ultimately did not work out.
"We needed to make the change, it's unfortunate but that's the way it goes sometimes. I really wish Carlos well, he's a friend of mine and someone I feel close to. He's someone I felt really did his best here but sometimes that's just the way the game works. Most importantly I'm very encouraged by what I see from Frank having taken the reins just a few days ago at our request and I feel the team is in a position to make a real run for it through the rest of the season. That's really what this change was about...giving the club the best chance to try to make a playoff run for the rest of the year," said Hauptman after the team's annual media game at Toyota Park.
The team will begin searching for a permanent head coach once the technical staff assembles a list of candidates but Klopas is likely to remain behind the bench at least through this season. It doesn't seem likely that a new coach would be hired mid-season. "I would say - never say never - but our inclination is that the smoothest transition would be to have him coach through the rest of the season during which time we can patiently search far and wide for a head coach," continued Hauptman.
Is it possible that Klopas would be retained as the head coach entering 2012?
That doesn't seem likely either but Hauptman does feel that Klopas could do it if asked. "Our inclination is that's not the case but you never know. I think certainly he has the capacity to do it but I brought him on specifically to oversee the soccer side of things as technical director and he's going to remain the technical director no matter what happens through this year. That's important to state but the expectation is for him not to be the head coach. But again if we find the right coach sooner then obviously we might make that change sooner."
"Frank's intention wasn't to be head coach but he believes in himself and I think he has a clear vision for what the team needs. I give him alot of kudos for having the courage to step up and say "yeah I can do this", "I will do this", "I owe it to this club to do this" and that's why I have Frank here to begin with. He is that guy. He doesn't shy away from anything, he's incredibly authentic. He has some special sauce about him that as soon as he stepped into this role you could see some of that come out and I think the players really feel that."
How will the coaching search proceed from here?
"I'm going to leave it to Javier Leon and Mike and Frank to collectively map out their game plan in terms of meeting with other potential coaches as we move forward," added Hauptman.
The Fire owner also elaborated on the reasoning behind the decision to release De Los Cobos and go in another direction. "The question (I asked was), what is in the best interests of the club long term? Going back to the decision that we made with Carlos it really was about asking ourselves that question. When you think about the head coaching job long term here, was it likely that Carlos was going to be that guy? The technical team decided that it wasn't likely. When they gave me that answer my reaction was, if he's not the right guy over the long term what makes him the right guy now? They (technical staff) felt that we should make the adjustment so I gave the blessing to go make the change."
Although the team has been generally very competitive, lack of results were ultimately the determining factor but Hauptman continued, "I think it's important to note that every game other than one, we've been incredibly competitive and every single one of those games we could have won. In some way that made it even harder to make the change with Carlos."
In addressing the team after the change was made Hauptman made it clear that an opportunity still exists this season despite the start. "The results haven't been there but that's gone, past tense, move on. It's like you're starting the season this Saturday. What kind of team do you see yourself being? I think the guys are ready but having said that I'm not expecting miracles. You saw Phildelphia break out with six goals last week and it wouldn't surprise me for this team to have a game like that."
"This is a sport where you can definitely be the better team and lose. And so far we have not been the better team and we've lost. But there have been moments when we've been the better team."
US Open Cup A Priority
The organization also seems to have a renewed sense of importance with regards to the US Open Cup. Hauptman also realizes that the club's emphasis on the annual tournament is something that has apparently waned over the last few seasons. "I think it's fair to say that over the past years since I've owned the team I have not felt a sufficient degree of focus or care for the results (of the USOC). It always sort of boggled my mind because I have on my new business card the years that we've won the US Open Cup, it's part of the club's history."
The club recently announced to season ticket holders via email that they will make competitive attempts to host every USOC match at Toyota Park. "I think that there are different ways of satisfying ourselves in terms of our own accomplishments as well as making our supporters proud and one of them is the opportunity of going out there and winning it," said Hauptman. "It's important and I think Carlos understood it when I spoke to him about it and Frank for sure understands it. I think it's fair to say given the results of the regular season so far it's good to have something tangible and positive that we can build off of. That game in San Jose, notwithstanding how bad we were in the first half, the guys left it all on the field and it was the same group more or lesss that played the weekend before and the following weekend. I'm very encouraged by the care that everyone here has shown for the USOC."
That is surely a good sign for Fire supporters frustrated by the results so far in 2011, but the Fire also face internal issues when hosting USOC games at Toyota Park. The main one being profitability due to small crowds. That concern has also apparently been tabled.
"From a business perspective it can be challenging on occasion hosting here. There's a cost to opening the doors but I'd like to think this is our home and we should be able to play here no matter what. I'd like our team to figure out how we can do it whether we pack the house or we don't."
Klopas and the Fire have a chance to back up the owner's optimism starting tomorrow against Seattle, a team that recently ended Real Salt Lake's 29 game MLS unbeaten string at home.
It's like a new season. After all the Fire are currently only five points behind Columbus for the 10th and final playoff spot but the team must start maximizing points at home.