Exclusive Hot Time In Old Town Conversation with Chicago Fire President of Soccer Operations Javier Leon: Part 1

It was a fun and enlightening conversation with Javier. We got some very good info on the Front Office in terms of outlook and team philosophy. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Recently the crew over here at HTIOT got a very unique opportunity to engage Javier Leon in a detailed conversation. For those that may not know, Javier is the Managing Director of Andell Sports Group and President of Soccer Operations for the Chicago Fire. Basically, he works hand in hand with owner Andrew Hauptman on a daily basis. Chicago Fire Director of Communications Brendan Hannan reached out to Hot Time In Old Town to set up this visit with Javier, and it was a chance that we were excited to accept.

It was a very enlightening conversation with all of those involved. In terms of HTIOT, those present on the call were Tweed Thornton, Mark O' Rourke, and myself. Rather than a standard Q&A interview style format, Javier accommodated us with a more free flowing, open chat. The call itself lasted for around an hour, so there was a lot of content to digest. So much content in fact that we are splitting this recap into two parts. The first part will appear after the break, and the second part should hit the site within a couple of days.

A variety of topics were discussed, and we had the chance to get some in depth explanations on a number of things. It was nice for the Front Office to reach out to us and take some time to communicate. Part 2 of the conversation will likely be longer than part 1, but before we go any further I want to personally thank Brendan Hannan and Javier Leon for getting this conversation together. We hope to have more talks like this in the near future and should also have some player interviews coming your way very soon as well.

Follow after the break and enjoy...

On making player changes midseason...

"A team is not about going into a blackboard and saying okay I’m going to put this piece here, and I’m going to put this other piece right here, and this looks good, and this guy comes here. Because in the end it’s all about what happens inside that locker room; it’s about how these players relate to one another. If you start making too many changes, you lose that. You lose what you had to begin with. So one of the things that we wanted to do was to avoid that. The second thing that makes it more challenging for us and every MLS team is that our season, when the window opens up internationally...we are in the middle of our season. This is something that the league is addressing and they’re going to be thinking about. The reality today is that you, then, need to make some moves in the middle of your season. For most leagues, what happens is that they have a break and then they are able to make some moves. Even during the winter window, in most cases it is a reduced window and a lot of leagues take a bit of a break, especially in the colder areas in Europe. As a result of that, teams can take a step back and make some of those changes and have more time to integrate those changes. We don’t have that luxury in MLS, and I think that’s something that we wanted to be careful with, and therefore not make so many changes."

On Frank Klopas’ role in acquiring players...

"The beauty about Frank is that he is also involved in this dialogue with us. The nice thing about having that is that he has the ability to understand the economics and the league rules. I can’t tell you how difficult it is for a new head coach to come into the league, like we had in the case of Carlos de los Cobos, and all of a sudden be confronted with how the league operates. It’s very difficult for them to understand it. It’s very difficult for them to adapt to that. The benefit of having someone like Frank who went through the process of doing player contracts and negotiating player contracts-it’s been very helpful. The last thing that I will tell you is that we have a great working relationship. We’re all working very hard. I can’t even tell you how much time one spends over the last month from looking at different potential options. Andrew has always told us that he doesn’t want any stone to be left unturned. I can tell you that up to yesterday and this morning we had a number of things that we were trying to accomplish that required a lot of work."

On who initiates dialogue with other teams regarding trades and other player acquisitions...

"I’m taking a fully direct, active role, in terms of the actual negotiation. There is also a guy, Guillermo Petrei, who is based in Chicago. One of the things that Guillermo is going to do is to really try to put more work in, in terms of scouting. The way that we would be thinking about scouting is that you’re going to be thinking about the domestic side of the equation, which is obviously the draft, potential for signing players, winning the league as well. You look at three teams today that have done very well and they don’t have a DP. For example, San Jose and Kansas City. When you look at what they did during the offseason, they made some very good moves, but they were pretty much inside the league. So we’re going to have more focus there too and then clearly internationally. I think we’ve been, with Andrew’s support, every year becoming stronger in our relationships with clubs and different people that we can trust. We now have identified a couple of markets or leagues where we have the ability to source some players. That’s just going to continue to become more rigorous and more demanding. I always said, today we have 19 teams, before there used to be 10. Clearly, the challenges to make the playoffs and be successful are that much greater."

On the long term goals around building the team...

"Working for Andrew Hauptman, he has strived to develop a sense of club at the Fire and a sense of family. One of the things we have tried and are still improving at is the ability to really care and give the players everything that’s necessary for them to succeed. A while back, we started thinking about how do we help these guys when they are traded, how do we help them with their families getting situated in Chicago. So there has been a whole homeboarding program put together.

It was interesting for me and Andrew, last year when we organized a trip and we visited a number of clubs in Europe...one of the clubs that really resonated with us was Arsenal. The one principle that they have was this concept of humility and at the same time, the ability to grow organically. It really did resonate with us because Arsenal is not about ‘okay let’s just go buy the finished product.’ Instead, let’s try to build something that we all are proud of putting together. Let’s make sure that whomever comes into this club bides by this same principle that this club has. To give you a quick anecdote of that...We went to see one of the practice sessions and Arsene Wenger, the coach, had just finished practice. As the players are leaving the field, every single one of them came and said a quick hello to both me and Andrew. They didn’t know who we were. We could’ve been friends of someone at the organization. They didn’t know that Andrew actually was the owner of a professional team. That concept really resonated with us.

That’s why I feel very good today in having our head coach be Frank Klopas. I believe in this concept of taking someone who was part of the family-the history that he had playing for the team, winning a championship and then coming back being the technical director, then moving into the head coaching role. Frank, in many ways, has found his calling. I think he’s a much better head coach than he was a technical director. This is really what he loves to do. He’s working 24-7 giving everything he has, and the fact that there is that connection with Chicago makes it special. I think we’re gradually moving in that direction in terms of giving people like Frank that ability and maintaining that connection with the history of the club."

Part 2 will feature more in depth analysis (now linked to) of all the transactions in terms of players coming and going this year as well as a few other various topics. There will also be a good nugget or two about youth development and how the Fire are planning to improve upon an already blossoming youth system.

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