Carlos de los Cobos is no longer the Chicago Fire head coach. Frank Klopas takes over in the interim. Who will be the next full-time head coach to roam the sidelines at Toyota Park? Thoughts and a head coach poll are after the break.
Pros: Eric Wynalda's started out playing in the wilderness that was American soccer between the North American Soccer League ending in 1984 and Major League Soccer starting in 1996. He not only was the first American to play in Germany's Bundesliga and Germany's second division, he was successful in both between 1992-1996. Wynalda came back to the United States for the birth of Major League Soccer and played for the San Jose Clash, Miami Fusion, New England Revolution, and your own Chicago Fire scoring 34 goals in 98 games before retiring with the Fire in 2001.
Cons: Wynalda is a bit of a loose cannon. Actually Wynalda is a huge loose cannon. He is well known for saying:
Jim Rome can suck my d---! And he should be very afraid, because I'm the kind of guy, if I get too many drinks in me, I will club his a--. I've been on with Jim Rome, and I said, "Let me get this straight, you're more impressed with water polo???"
He recently did an interview with Beyond the Pitch where he was very candid about Chicago, perhaps too candid for potential co-workers. His coaching experience consists of being an assistant coach for the San Diego Flash. The Flash are a 4th tier team. Wynalda would no doubt come in and make some mistakes. That's what rookies do.
Final Thoughts: The argument for Wynalda is this club needs some infused passion after a period of mediocre soccer. I don't disagree but Wynalda's chances lie in Frank Klopas admitting he made a mistake. Wynalda interviewed for the head coaching job back in 2009 and Klopas hired Carlos de los Cobos instead. A lot has changed for Chicago but not much has changed in Wynalda's background.
Pros: Jesse Marsch is from Chicago's backyard in Racine, Wisconsin. He was part of the 1998 Chicago Fire expansion team that won the U.S. Open Cup and the MLS Cup. This Midwestern guy embodies the hard-working and gritty nature that the successful Chicago Fire teams have had. He has been an assistant coach with the USMNT since February 5, 2010. In that role, Marsch has worked directly with former Chicago Fire head coach and USMNT head coach Bob Bradley in the 2010 World Cup and several USMNT friendlies.
Cons: Marsch also has the Klopas 'mistake factor' because he was interviewed for the Fire head coaching job back in the winter of 2009 like Wynalda. Chivas USA interviewed Marsch for their off-season coaching vacancy in 2010 and they hired Robin Fraser instead. It probably says more about Fraser who had been an assistant with Real Salt Lake for 4 years than it does Marsch but it is another job Marsch was passed over for.
Final Thoughts: Wynalda might have played with the Chicago for 21 games but Jesse Marsch played 200 games for the Fire and was part of the first original team. Marsch is more likely to handle the situation of being overlooked in 2009 and hired in 2011 with class whereas Wynalda is more likely to shoot his mouth off at least once. The paperwork could already be in the works but Marsch might want to go through the 2011 Gold Cup as an assistant coach for the USMNT. The Fire front office might even think that it is in their best interest for Marsch to do that too.
Predrag Radosavljević (Preki)
Pros: The man simply known as Preki has had two MLS coaching stints already: Chivas USA 2007-2009 and Toronto FC 2010. He was an assistant coach to Bob Bradley at Chivas USA in 2006 and named the Chivas USA head coach after Bob Bradley left to coach the USMNT. He is one of the rare candidates with MLS head coaching experience under his belt.
Cons: Preki is a loose cannon like Wynalda except he has more of a reputation for physical confrontations instead of those of the verbal variety. That's not everyone's cup of tea. At least people didn't like it when Denis Hamlett was in town. His Chivas USA teams had worse results every year and Toronto was not playing good soccer when he was fired.
Final Thoughts: I have no doubt that Preki's name will continue to pop up because he is currently living in Chicago. His daughter is a freshman playing on DePaul University's women's soccer team. It would be just so easy for him to move over to the sidelines at Toyota Park. Chivas USA and Preki mutually ended Preki's coaching tenure after the 2009 season but Preki was named MLS Coach of the Year in 2007 after leading the team to Runners-Up in the Supporters' Shield and being 1st in the Western Conference Standings. He never got his team past the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs but he did make the playoffs every year and Chivas USA fell off considerably in 2010. He was fired before the end of the 2010 in Toronto but that was a bad situation from the get-go. Preki could be a nice safe choice.
Pros: The Chicago Fire original played 13 seasons with the team - every season in the team's history but this current one. There was a lot of grief put on the Fire front office when Real Salt Lake announced they had hired him to become an assistant coach in the 2011 off-season. Real Salt Lake is coming to town on June 22nd. Might we just see C.J. Brown switch sidelines the week prior to the game? We might actually get some inside information there.
Cons: Brown has only been an assistant coach for a couple of months. He has only been through 1/4th of the regular season. He probably doesn't have the tenure the Fire are looking for.
Final Thoughts: Is C.J. ready to become a head coach? If he fails after taking over the team, what kind of setback does that do to his career? This reeks of right job, wrong time, type of situation.
Pros: Chris Armas and Chicago Fire owner Andrew Hauptman have a special bond in the Smithtown Kickers. Sure Armas played over 200 games with the Chicago Fire between 1998 and 2007 but little things like playing for the same team as kids has helped individuals get better jobs than Chicago Fire head coach before. It also doesn't hurt that Armas was an assistant coach for Chicago during the 2008 season.
Cons: Armas reportedly left the team after 2008 because he wanted to move back to the Long Island area where he grew up. He currently is a gym teacher at St. Anthony's High School in South Huntington, New York. He is coaching soccer and hinting about coaching professionals but at the same time he also mentions he is actively turning down big paychecks.
Final Thoughts: If you are a proponent of hiring C.J. Brown, you cannot rule Armas out based on experience. Armas' time as an assistant with the Fire means he currently has more experience on the Fire sidelines than almost any other contender for the top job. You could say he is rusty and I'm sure the team critics would howl about 'hiring a high school gym teacher' but this is no ordinary gym teacher we are talking about. This is Chicago Fire legend Chris Armas. I would be surprised if Armas left his seemingly happy storybook life but don't rule out the Hauptman/Long Island connection. Armas is the only person to have been inducted into the Ring of Fire during Andrew Hauptman's era.
Pros: Well he is going to be the head coach for now, why make any changes? Yet another Chicago Fire player from the 1998 season, Klopas finds himself in an enviable position. We are 11 games into the regular season and Klopas knows the strengths and weaknesses of all of the players without having any of the negative coaching tenure of Carlos de los Cobos on his head coaching record. Other candidates would have to watch hours upon hours of tape to get on the same level of roster knowledge as Klopas.
Cons: Klopas' head coaching experience is limited to coaching the Major Indoor Soccer League's Chicago Storm. You could argue that C.J. Brown has more coaching experience in MLS. Klopas' record with the Chicago Storm wasn't even very good and he finished under .500 between 2004-2006 combined.
Final Thoughts: Frank Klopas is the architect for this team, let's see if he can be the builder too. If Klopas doesn't do well, the Fire will bring in a new coach. Klopas seemingly will go back to his job as technical director full-time. It's not a bad place to be in because he's a genius if it works and 'just' an interim coach if it fails. The creeping question is does Klopas keep his job as technical director is he fails as coach? If he can't get this group he mainly signed to win, who could? I'll have more on Klopas' performance as technical director but for now let's just say he deserves to keep his technical director job. We'll keep you posted on head coach.
The Early Favorite
Right now I'm leaning towards Jesse Marsch joining the team after the end of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Marsch is a much different coach candidate now than he was in the winter of 2009. Instead of just coming off of retiring as a player, Marsch has World Cup experience and in a month he'll have Gold Cup experience. Eric Wynalda remains the relatively same candidate now, no disrespect to the San Diego Flash intended. I just don't see the organization going back on not hiring him in 2009 and how many other teams have passed on Wynalda since then too.
Don't rule out Klopas though. There might have even been some arrangement where Klopas gets to have a little trail of coaching in June while the team doesn't have Marco Pappa. If it works, he gets to keep coaching. It if doesn't, a new head coach is brought in. The team might even have more people interested after a couple of games because the Chicago Fire job on July 1st is a whole lot more attractive than the job on June 1st. In addition to 6 MLS games in June, the team will have the U.S. Open Cup on June 28th. Picture any new coach coming into a situation without the team's best player, playing more games in a month than usual and having to coach the team's game in a historic tournament the fan base takes a lot of pride in. It's unlikely but a nightmare June could have the fan base longing for the days of CDLC; he was at least tying games and advancing through the USOC. With so many different balls in the air, I'd be surprised if this coaching situation got resolved anytime soon.