Recording a live podcast during an event such as last weekend’s ISA Annual General Meeting has its challenges. The biggest hurdle is providing clear, audible, content throughout all of the segments. The latest Fire Confidential Live podcast featured an interview with former Fire player, Technical Director, and Head Coach Frank Klopas that was obscured by the background noise of the live proceedings.
Klopas had a lot of interesting things to say about his time with the Fire and in Montreal with the Impact. Since you may not have been able to hear it all, here’s a transcript of the interview for your eyes instead of your ears.
Frank Klopas: “It’s great for me to be back home and have an opportunity to be here with the fans, and also be here with you to talk a little bit about soccer and being optimistic about the team going forward.”
Fire Confidential Live: Talk about your relationship with the fans. Obviously you’re still involved with Chicago soccer and the fans are still receptive to you because of what you did for the Fire and soccer in Chicago. What about your relationship with fans even though you’re not technically involved with the Fire any more?
Frank Klopas: “For me, I always understood the fans. Like I’ve said, they’re the life blood of any organization. They were always there to support me and the team. They put pressure on obviously, but I think pressure is good. For me, more than anything being from here and growing up in the City, when things didn’t go well there were difficult nights. I always go home and really feel and think about what more or better I could have done, or our staff could have done to change things. This was more of a personal thing. I respect the fans. They’re tremendous and I know how much they put forth to support this club. More than anything, I wanted to come here and speak to them a little bit and thank them so they understand how important they are.”
Fire Confidential Live: Along those same lines, looking back at your time as a Technical Director and as coach, do you have any regrets about how the things worked out?
Frank Klopas: “When you’re in a position to make decisions you know that you’re not always going to get them right. I spent 17 years playing at the highest level and then I took time away because I wanted to be involved in the game and I wanted to make sure that after the experience that I got as a player, I wanted to be educated. I wanted to get my license. I went to Europe to get my UEFA pro license. The opportunity came to step in as a Technical Director. I came in and there was a process where you have to learn how things work. Obviously there was more responsibility. Like I said, when you make decisions you’re not always going to get them right. If you look back, there were some good moments and there were some bad moments. I think that’s the one thing I always tried to do is to try to learn every single day. Hopefully I’m a lot better and a lot wiser and a lot smarter. Am I happy for being involved with the team here? One hundred percent, because I did feel in the two and a half years I was here I stepped into a difficult situation and we kind of settled the ship a little bit the second year. We won 17 games. Then we won 14 and the only reason we missed the playoffs is because they changed the rule with goal differential. Regardless, I think a decision was made. I wasn’t happy. I respected the decision. The one thing that was good that came out of it was that now you have just one guy that was really responsible for making the proper decisions. I didn’t have that. Maybe that’s the one thing that I wish I could have had.”
Fire Confidential Live: You got hired by Montreal pretty quickly after you left Chicago. There were a lot of ups and downs in Montreal. You took them through a Champion’s League run and you were instrumental during that time when Drogba came into the league. How was your time in Montreal? Supporters (here) followed your path but really didn’t see a lot of the day to day things from a distance.
Frank Klopas: “I think when the decision with my option was not picked up, the decision was made to go in a different direction. I still wanted to continue to coach. I stepped into the Fire situation not because I wanted to, I still had some reservation but the opportunity presented itself. I think it was the right thing to do because I knew the players and I knew I could change the culture that wasn’t right, there at that moment. When the decision was made, I got a call right away from Montreal. It wasn’t an easy decision. This is something I discussed with my wife. They flew out here right away. I met the owner and Nick DeSantis. We had a meeting. I wanted to know everything about the club; what their situation was as far as the commitment they had made to players from a salary standpoint and if they had room to improve. I was taking a team that had a lot of veteran guys that they had and I didn’t feel it was going to be the right situation for next year. They had guaranteed contracts and there was really no room going forward to next year. The team that was at hand, knowing that after the first year, there was going to be an opportunity to change the team around. I went in there, I knew that. I had a good conversation with the owner and with Nick. We couldn’t do anything the first year and it was a difficult season. We didn’t have the cap room and we couldn’t bring players. The one player we got late in the season, there were some contracts that ended in mid-season, we were able to bring in a player like Ignacio Piatti. He was a guy that we were building with for the future and was a difference maker. When that season finished, I had a meeting with the owner and with Nick again and presented a plan, actually three different scenarios of where we had to be with the changes we needed to make. It was up to the owner to make a decision based on the money that he wanted to spend and the players we were looking to bring in. He picked plan B and we weren’t able to get every player we wanted but I felt that we built a pretty solid team. The one thing that we didn’t have was a forward. We were desperately trying to get a forward. We missed on a couple of options. When the season started we had to deal with two different situations, we were in CONCACAF and we were in the league. We started really strong in CONCACAF because we prepared the players really well. When you’re playing two different tournaments we didn’t have the depth really to compete in those two tournaments. Especially when you have a cap, as you do in the league, and you’re playing teams from Mexico that spend $45 million dollars. I think I matured and I grew a lot as a coach there. In the second year we improved the team and we played some very good soccer. We were 45 minutes away from winning CONCACAF. It wasn’t easy for us having our goalkeeper out and a couple of defenders suspended for that game but I thought we had a great run. It was a team that I knew was going to be in the playoffs at the end of the season with the ability to add someone like Drogba. I think it helped a lot that Chelsea was there in preseason training. I had a good relationship with Mourinho. The French speaking language was always a big factor. I think he was a great addition. When he came in, he was really not up to game shape. He played only 45 minutes when I was there. Unfortunately, things ended for me with ten games left in the season. I had a bit of a disagreement the owner and then I came back to Chicago. Regardless, I loved my time there in Montreal.”
Fire Confidential Live: From a coaching perspective you had some success with the Fire, looking at what has happened over the last couple of years and then looking at what happened with Montreal, when all of a sudden they get Drogba and they make a run, do you look at that and say – I could have done that?
Frank Klopas: “I did do that. I was doing that there In Montreal, we had a team that played some great soccer and we were in the finals of CONCACAF. Maybe there’s one other team in MLS that was ever there. I had the team in the playoff race. We had Piatti. Drogba was coming in. We had some players that were missing at that time but we were playing well. We didn’t get the results, but unfortunately the owners play a big role. Maybe a lot more nowadays than they used to in the past. I had a disagreement. The one thing that I did learn there that was a learning curve when I did leave here, is that I have a very good tactical sense. I know the game. I feel the game. I have good instincts. The one thing here (Chicago) in my second year, I got away from that. I listened to other people. I think I wasn’t very firm and strong in the things that I did believe in. That changed in Montreal. I have to look back and see the good things and also the things that didn’t go so well and what I had to do to be a lot stronger in some of those decisions. That changed in Montreal and unfortunately I was out. I know I did great things there, even here in Chicago I felt we did some good things. We could have done a lot of things better for sure but I was here two and a half years. I stepped into a situation that was a difficult one. I think we kind of balanced the team. From 1-9, we finished .500 and brought that belief and confidence back into the group. The second year, we added some very good players. We had the ability to bring a guy like Arne (Friedrich), like Pavel Pardo, we drafted Austin Berry. I think that kind of went really well with the leadership of Arne in the back. We built a good team, and a good team through the draft also with some younger players and we won 17 games, but it’s a process. I know we lost in the playoffs but the thing that hurt in the second full season was the injury to Arne early on. Him missing, and the ability of us not replacing him quick enough (hurt), but at the end of the day, someone got hurt like Arne with some of the guys early on didn’t produce like we thought they were going to do. Once we made a couple of changes, we made a strong run in the end and I felt the team, for sure needed some changes. We had some quality depth. We had some players that had experience. Now could you improve on that and bring (more) good depth? I’m not going to talk about what happened after I left, but if you look at my record when I was here, I didn’t have a losing season. I won 17, 14, and 9 games. I’m sure there are many things that I could have done better that I learned. I’m sure there were mistakes. For me to say that I did learn, and I’m constantly learning, but I feel good about the work that I did here and I feel good about what I did in Montreal. I built a great relationship with a lot of players and have a lot of respect with people within the league and people outside of the league.”
Fire Confidential Live: You mentioned that you listened to other people during your time in Chicago during the second year. You alluded to the time after you left when Andrew brought in Frank Yallop as Director of Soccer Operations. Would it have been better to have one guy responsible while you were here?
Frank Klopas: “Look, I think that you need a good group to work with you but at the end of the day I always believe that if you’re a coach, the heat’s going to be on you. You’re the guy that’s accountable for results and everything. At the end they look at you and you’re going to get fired, but you should be the guy making the decisions. You can say if you want this player, or don’t. When the change was made, I felt that, here’s a guy now but I wasn’t happy about it because I felt that we were progressing the right way. We had stabilized the team and we were right there. With the right moves, we would have been a team that could take the next step but (it didn’t happen). I have the utmost respect for everyone here in the organization, they made the decision and I wasn’t happy but the only thing I’m saying is that now you have a guy that the buck stops with you. You have to make the decisions and he didn’t win. I wasn’t happy to see where the team went in those two years, believe me. At the end of the day, this will always be my team no matter what. I will always care about the club.”
Fire Confidential Live: What’s next for you? Do you want to stay in coaching? Do you want to stay in Chicago?
Frank Klopas: “I took some time off. I’m taking some time off right now. I traveled Europe, went to watch some training sessions. I spoke to different coaches. I went to see family when I was there. The opportunities in the league right now, because there wasn’t much turn over, there are not that many. I have good opportunities with USL and NASL clubs that could potentially come in to the league. They’re pushing very hard for me to get involved. I’m looking at all those options. In a perfect world, would I love to stay here in the City and be involved in soccer here? One hundred percent. I have a connection to the City. This is the place where I started my career, and ended my career. I have a special relationship with the team here and it would be great to stay here but I have to keep my options open. That’s what I’m doing and I continue that with every decision that I make moving forward.”
Fire Confidential Live: It was announced about a month ago that NASL is planning on bringing a team to Chicago. Peter Wilt has some involvement with that ownership group. They’re very early in the process of putting a team together in Chicago but is that something you’re looking at as an option?
Frank Klopas: “I would love to continue to be involved at the highest level, whether it’s with the pros or with the academies. I feel that I have a lot to offer from my experience in playing and as a former coach. If I stayed here, I would love to be involved in the game. I did hear a lot about an NASL coming here and Peter being involved and I would never count Peter out on anything. He’s someone that’s a very smart guy that has been in positions like this, where in the beginning he’s starting other clubs. Is the City big enough to support two? Of course it is. There’s a lot of soccer fans. I’m willing to learn and listen more about everything.”
Fire Confidential Live: It seems like if anybody could do it, it would be Peter Wilt.
Frank Klopas: “Definitely. The more people talking about soccer, the better. The winner is the game itself. That’s the positive part. In the past, we never had something like this gathering today, which is great.”
Fire Confidential Live: The current Fire team looks like it’s going through a rebuilding process. Knowing Nelson and Pauno, what are your thoughts about the team going forward?
Frank Klopas: “I know Pauno and I know Nelson. I can tell you they’re committed people. They’re good people, that are going to work extremely hard. The only thing I think from the fans standpoint, is that when you have a lot of turnover in the past two years, when you change 40 players, they come in and there’s a lot of turnover now, people do have to be patient. They are going to be inconsistent, but you also want to see a team that’s committed on the field. You have to be committed. You have to see certain signs around the ability of what the team is trying to do on the field. I have a lot of confidence in Pauno as a coach. I’ve talked to him and I’ve seen him work. I have confidence in Nelson. I think things will get better but you need to give them some time, that’s the only thing I would say. All the younger players they do have and they’re bring in, at some point you do have to make decisions about whether or not they have the quality, besides the right mentality and hard work. How far can they go if they have the quality?”
Fire Confidential Live: The margin of talent is very close from team to team in MLS. How do you see the league shaking out? Do you think the Fire can get back into a playoff race?
Frank Klopas: “I know the league very well. There’s a great opportunity for the team. If you look at the schedule, 6 out of the first 8 games are at home. It’s a big opportunity now to get off to a positive start. When you make that amount of change in a team, you need time. The longer the team is together, the better they will be. It’s important because of the great opportunity now with six games at home. It’s huge. It’s got to be a place where they can get off to a good start and build confidence. Also, we have to understand that we have to be patient. Everyone, and all of us have to do our part to be there and support the team. I know the fans have always been there. You tell them you need to be patient, but unfortunately there’s nothing else you can say but you have to see certain things. You have to see that commitment from the players on the field. You have to see certain ideas. You have to see an identity of the team on the field come through, and I think we will.”
Fire Confidential Live: Do you think it’s important for the Fire to bring in a big name player in order to re-energize the club as a whole?
Frank Klopas: “I think it’s important to get back in the winning ways and build that confidence. With big name players, the important thing is that they have to understand in coming here they have to continue to play. This is not a league to come in, a retirement league like some people say. We brought Arne Friedrich when he was 33. Pavel Pardo was not a young guy. I wish that I had a chance to keep him around. You can bring in big name players, as long as they come here with the right mentality and attitude, and wanting to make a difference on the field. We’ve had some great players here in the past. Some worked out, and some didn’t. The guy that we got in Montreal, Drogba, had a great mentality and attitude and still wanted to compete. He knew the responsibilities that he had to take upon himself, that comes with it.”
Fire Confidential Live: The loss of Friedrich in 2013 can’t be understated.
Frank Klopas: “He made a big difference. In our back line, we had Jalil and Berry with two experienced guys to help the younger guys. As a coach, you have to understand strengths and weaknesses. I might want to play one way, but also I know the strengths of the players I have. I have to make sure that I put them in situations for them to be successful based on the characteristics that they have.”
Fire Confidential Live: Thanks for taking time
Frank Klopas: “It was great for me to be here. This is something that I miss. The opportunity for me to come and be with the fans, talk to them a little bit, and get to see everyone that I haven’t seen is great. It’s an exciting time of the year. It’s a new year with a new start and new beginning. There’s a lot of optimism and we have to keep that. The most important thing is that we have to be there supporting the team. I do believe one hundred percent with the people here, that things will be better. They’re a committed group of guys. They’re going to work extremely hard and they do care. At the end of the day, this is great because the fans can voice their opinion and that’s what it’s all about.”