The Chicago Fire may be on a three game win streak, but as things stand, the 2011 season has failed to live up to the Fire's high expectations. Frank Klopas must take the brunt of the blame for the Fire’s failures to date this season. Now before anyone jumps down my throat I want to point out that as it stands, the Fire are almost certainly not going to make the Playoffs and are playing the U.S. Open Cup Final away to a team that they have never beaten and that has won it the last two seasons in a row. Yes I know I am taking the negative outlook but I am doing it for argument's sake.
After sacking Carlos de los Cobos less than halfway through the season, Klopas took up the reigns of a team that he built. As the technical director (director of football), Klopas signed off on virtually all of the Fire’s current squad. As it stands, neither Kolpas nor the Fire’s reclusive owner Andrew Hauptman have given Fire fans any indication about what is going to happen at the end of this season regarding the head coaching position. With that in mind, I would like to take a look at six coaches that I believe would be a good fit for the Fire and my reasons why. Let’s take a look at the first two:
Schellas Hyndman is the current FC Dallas coach that took over three years ago in 2008 after managing for 24 seasons at Southern Methodist University. Unlike the Fire who are so quick to drop a coach, Dallas allowed Hyndman to stay on and continue building his team after two years of not making the Playoffs. The last two seasons have been extremely fruitful for Dallas, making it to the MLS Cup last year and getting to the semis of the U.S. Open Cup this year. What’s arguably more important than Dallas’ success in the Playoffs and in the U.S. Open Cup is Dallas’ success at home during the MLS regular season. This is something that the Fire have lacked since moving to Toyota Park. Last season, Dallas went on a 19 game unbeaten streak from May all the way through late October. Last season, Dallas only lost one game at home in the regular season.
If we look at Dallas' signings/player development over the past few seasons, all the credit must go to the coach and his staff. The obvious standout is David Ferreira who was last season’s MVP but two other signings have really caught the eye this season. Brek Shea, who most people thought was a joke a couple of seasons ago and George John a player who has established himself as one of the outstanding defenders in the MLS this season. Shea is now very much in USA coach Jurgen Klinsman’s plans and looks set to leave the MLS for a club in Europe by the end of the season. John looked set for a move to Premier League club Blackburn Rovers just a few weeks ago but the deal fell apart. Both Shea’s and John’s massive improvements over the past season or so are partly due to Hyndman who is getting the best out of his team.
A coach with MLS and also U.S. soccer experience is essential for the Fire’s next hire. Not many candidates can say that they have over 25 years in experience coaching in the American game and, being 60 years old, he has seen soccer move from the dark ages into the limelight. Too often in the Fire’s history it has allowed its head coaches to be snapped up by other MLS clubs with little more than a few draft picks or compensation to show for it. It’s about time that the Fire start acting like a big club and if the club feels like a coach who is currently with an MLS team like Hyndman is the ideal candidate, it must do everything in its power to get that coach to Chicago.
Caleb Porter is the hottest coaching property in college soccer in the United States and is constantly linked with a move to the MLS. For the last six seasons, Porter has run the University of Akron program, leading them to the last two College Cup championship games, losing 3-2 in 2009 and winning 1-0 in 2010. His team is currently on a 39 game home unbeaten streak, something that would be almost impossible in the MLS but it is clear that Porter understands the importance of winning your home games, something Fire fans crave. Porter may not be anywhere near as experienced as Hyndman (he’s almost half his age) but he does significant experience for someone of his tenure. Most coaches are still playing at the age of 36 but Porter has the upper hand on most of his peers because he has 11 years of coaching experience at the college level and 6 years of head coaching experience. Followers of European soccer will know that coaches who have had a head start on their peers (Jose Mourinho and Andre Villas-Boas) have made the most of their head start and are reaping the benefits today.
Porter's recruiting and player develop must also be praised. If we look at the last two MLS SuperDrafts, Akron has dominated in terms of drafted players. In 2010, 3 Arkon players were drafted in the SuperDraft and in 2011, 3 of the top 4 players chosen came from Akron and 7 players in total were drafted. In 2009, Steve Zakuani was chosen as the #1 overall pick. If we look the players who have come out of Akron over the past few years that are currently playing in the MLS, they have, for the most part, fit in very well. Zakuani was a finalist for Rookie of the Year, leading all rookies in goals and assists. In his second season, he led the Sounders in goals with 10 and tallied 6 assists. Teal Bunbury, like Zakuani has also blossomed in MLS after being drafted from Akron in 2010. His stellar 2010 season resulted in him being capped by the US team. Players like Perry Kitchen and Zarek Valentin have also established themselves as MLS regulars after being drafted from Akron.
What Porter does not have is MLS experience but he, unlike previous Fire coaches Carlos de los Cobos and Juan Carlos Osorio has a working knowledge of the American game, albeit at the college level. Porter has won it all at the college level and for him to further his coaching career, the next logical step up is to take a job in the MLS. Taking a college coach with no MLS experience would be a risk but a coach of Porter's obvious soccer knowledge and winning mentality would be, in my opinion, a risk well worth taking. In the next post, we will look at other candidates but these two must be considered in any coaching search.