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2011 Chicago Fire: Never had a chance... but don't blame Frank Klopas

They never had a chance... but don't blame Frank Klopas

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The Chicago Fire have now played all four of their scheduled games against the 2011 MLS Expansion teams. Their final record against the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps is 0 wins, 1 draw, and 3 losses while getting outscored 9-5. Each expansion team even defeated the Fire 4-2 at one point. Most of you are trying to forget that Vancouver dismantled Chicago earlier this week but there it is. I started running some numbers before the Whitecaps game with the thought, "Were the Fire any better off going into the 2011 season than Portland or Vancouver?" The numbers end up going much deeper and in fact showing a clear mark of a new era for the Chicago Fire and possibly an entire new strategy in MLS.

My first thought was to compile the minutes the players the Timbers and the Whitecaps were getting compared to the minutes the Fire were getting from the players they protected in the 2010 MLS Expansion Draft. The results are below.

Chicago Fire Minutes Non-Player Value/Note
1 Mike Banner 0 Injured all-season long
2 Calen Carr* 1596 Traded for Dominic Oduro
3 Wilman Conde 0 Future rights
4 Baggio Husidic 599
5 Steve Kinney 0 Injured all-season long
6 Patrick Nyarko 1322
7 Marco Pappa 1474
8 Logan Pause 1378
9 Bratislav Ristic 413
10 Gonzalo Segares 1973
11 Kwame Watson-Siriboe 0 Out on loan

Protected Minutes %

Portland Timbers Minutes Non-Player Value/Note
1 Dax McCarty* 1691 Traded for Rodney Wallace
2 Eric Brunner 1791
3 Adam Moffat 100
4 Anthony Wallace* 0 Allocation money
5 David Horst 678
6 Robbie Findley 0 Future rights
7 Peter Lowry 146
8 Jonathan Bornstein 0 Future rights
9 Jordan Graye* 0 4th Round Pick in 2014
10 Arturo Alvarez* 0 Pick used for Chris Taylor

Minutes Value %

Vancouver Whitecaps Minutes Non-Player Value/Note
1 Sanna Nyassi* 0 International slot
2 Atiba Harris 444
3 Nathan Sturgis* 137 Pick used for Michael Nanchoff
4 Shea Salinas 1152
5 Alan Gordon* 0 International slot
6 O'Brian White* 0 Allocation money
7 Alejandro Moreno* 0 Allocation money
8 Joe Cannon 900
9 Jonathan Leathers 1513
10 John Thorrington 97

Minutes Value %

As you can see, my premise was off but not entirely. Eric Brunner is the only regular starter Portland got out of the draft although they did acquire Rodney Wallace by trading first round pick Dax McCarty to D.C. United. Throw in the minutes of David Horst and Peter Lowry along with the value of their original picks and that's 19% of their playing time this year. Vancouver also has 19% of their minutes coming from Jonathan Leathers, Shea Salinas, Joe Cannon, Atiba Harris, Shea Salinas, Michael Nanchoff and John Thorrington. In addition to both teams making some moves for post-2011, the Whitecaps and Timbers acquired international slots and allocation money that they have used for other players this season. The respective 19% numbers are undoubtedly higher but allocation money and international slots are messy things to try and pin down .

Besides this is a bit of false logic. There is a difference between players being thrown together on an expansion team vs. the Fire benefiting from players like Marco Pappa, Patrick Nyarko, Logan Pause, and Gonzalo Segares having played together before. For a better comparison, we should be looking at other established MLS teams. We also need to expand beyond the protected players in the expansion draft and add in the exposed and the exempted too. To get an idea of what I mean by that, here is the total list of Fire players that were protected, exempt or exposed in the 2010 MLS Expansion Draft.

Chicago Fire Minutes
1 Mike Banner 0
2 Calen Carr 0
3 Wilman Conde 0
4 Baggio Husidic 599
5 Steve Kinney 0
6 Patrick Nyarko 1322
7 Marco Pappa 1474
8 Logan Pause 1378
9 Bratislav Ristic 413
10 Gonzalo Segares 1973
11 Kwame Watson-Siriboe 0

Protected Total 0.33
12 Corben Bone 452
13 Sean Johnson 1440
14 Victor Pineda 0

Exempt Total 0.09
15 Nery Castillo 0
16 Andrew Dykstra 0
17 Collins John 0
18 Krzysztof Krol 0
19 Freddie Ljundberg 0
20 Peter Lowry 0
21 Dasan Robinson 248
22 John Thorrington 0
23 Deris Umanzor 0
Exposed Total 0.01
Minutes Total 0.43

The first thing you might notice is that I removed the minutes that have been contributed by Dominic Oduro. While those minutes are a fair game when comparing their value to the expansion teams, Oduro does not have a track record with Nyarko, Pappa, etc. The removal of his playing time means the Fire are getting just a 1/3rd of their playing time from their designated top 11 players for the future. Rounding out the minutes for 2011 that come from 2010 team members, Sean Johnson has 1440 minutes, Corben Bone has 452 minutes, and Dasan Robinson had 248 minutes before being traded to Toronto. If that seems really low, well that's because it is. Take a look at how that compares to the rest of the league.

No. 2011 Team PPM Overall
1 Los Angeles Galaxy 1.92 82%
2 FC Dallas 1.75 85%
3 Real Salt Lake 1.71 96%
4 Seattle Sounders 1.71 81%
5 Philadelphia Union 1.50 64%
6 Colorado Rapids 1.48 84%
7 Columbus Crew 1.48 55%
8 Sporting KC 1.30 65%
9 D.C. United 1.29 45%
10 Chivas USA 1.26 52%
11 New York Red Bulls 1.25 66%
12 Houston Dynamo 1.22 74%
13 Portland Timbers 1.18 N/A
14 San Jose Earthquakes 1.09 84%
15 New England Revolution 0.91 62%
16 Chicago Fire 0.86 43%
17 Toronto FC 0.80 40%
18 Vancouver Whitecaps 0.78 N/A

PPM stands for points per match. It's a more accurate way to judge success when some teams have played as many as four or five games more than other teams. The first thing that strikes out at me is all four teams at the top of PPM are getting at least 80% of their 2011 minutes from players that were on their 2010 team. Compare the success and stability of Real Salt Lake at a whopping 97% to the Chicago Fire's 43% or even worse, Toronto FC's 40%. The middle of the pack is a little more scattered but the averages show an interesting display. The top nine teams average a 73% carryover rate while the bottom nine teams average 60% carryover even if you do the generous thing of dividing by 7 instead of 9 in an attempt to offset the negative value of the zeros coming from the expansion teams. For what it's worth, the carryover average for the bottom nine drops down to 47% when the zeros are factored in with a full 9 divider. The major question is whether or not this is just a snapshot for the 20 to 25 games played this year or a real trend so I went back and looked at 2010 as well.

No. 2010 Team PPM Overall
1 Los Angeles Galaxy 1.97 81%
2 Real Salt Lake 1.87 91%
3 New York Red Bulls 1.70 52%
4 Columbus Crew 1.67 95%
5 FC Dallas 1.67 78%
6 Seattle Sounders 1.60 85%
7 San Jose Earthquakes 1.53 66%
8 Colorado Rapids 1.53 67%
9 Kansas City Wizards 1.30 60%
10 Chicago Fire 1.20 71%
11 Toronto FC 1.17 51%
12 Houston Dynamo 1.10 87%
13 New England Revolution 1.07 58%
14 Philadelphia Union 1.03 N/A
15 Chivas USA 0.93 63%
16 D.C. United 0.73 45%

Again we see a similar trend where the teams at the top have very high carryover percentages. The New York Red Bulls stick out as a huge outlier but they also added Thierry Henry, Rafael Marquez, Tim Ream, Joel Lindpere among others. The rest of the top 6 teams all have carryover numbers of at least 78%. Compiling even more minutes, I went into 2009, 2008, and 2007.

No. 2009 Team PPM Overall
1 Columbus Crew 1.63 83%
2 Houston Dynamo 1.60 85%
3 Los Angeles Galaxy 1.60 42%
4 Seattle Sounders 1.57 0%
5 Chicago Fire 1.50 92%
6 Chivas USA 1.50 62%
7 New England Revolution 1.40 70%
8 Real Salt Lake 1.33 94%
9 Colorado Rapids 1.33 70%
10 D.C. United 1.33 56%
11 FC Dallas 1.30 52%
12 Toronto FC 1.30 51%
13 Kansas City Wizards 1.10 81%
14 San Jose Earthquakes 1.00 51%
15 New York Red Bulls 0.70 65%

No. 2008 Team PPM Overall
1 Columbus Crew 1.90 77%
2 Houston Dynamo 1.70 81%
3 Chicago Fire 1.53 82%
4 New England Revolution 1.43 77%
5 Chivas USA 1.43 65%
6 Kansas City Wizards 1.40 65%
7 Real Salt Lake 1.33 57%
8 New York Red Bulls 1.30 76%
9 Colorado Rapids 1.27 77%
10 D.C. United 1.23 51%
11 FC Dallas 1.20 74%
12 Toronto FC 1.17 52%
13 Los Angeles Galaxy 1.10 63%
14 San Jose Earthquakes 1.10 0%

No. 2007 Team PPM Overall
1 D.C. United 1.83 72%
2 Chivas USA 1.77 68%
3 Houston Dynamo 1.73 79%
4 New England Revolution 1.67 74%
5 FC Dallas 1.47 80%
6 New York Red Bulls 1.43 47%
7 Chicago Fire 1.33 83%
8 Kansas City Wizards 1.33 72%
9 Columbus Crew 1.23 61%
10 Colorado Rapids 1.17 61%
11 Los Angeles Galaxy 1.13 50%
12 Real Salt Lake 0.90 44%
13 Toronto FC 0.83 0%

Again, there are a couple of outliers, but the top two teams in PPM have at least 68% carryover dating back to 2007. The average carryover for the Supporters Shield winner the last four years is 78% with runners-up averaging 71%. If you think the Fire had a chance to steal the MLS Cup, you'll notice the lowest total comes from last year's Colorado Rapids squad with a total of 67% with the average carryover for MLS Cup winners being 79%. The average carryover for the MLS Cup Runner-up over the last four years is 68% and the lowest outlier for both the Supporters Shield runner-up and the MLS Cup runner-up is the 2009 Los Angeles Galaxy team with 42% carryover. If you want to compare the 2011 Chicago Fire to the 2009 LA Galaxy, I will mention they will be a major part of an already planned follow-up. They didn't win any trophies anyway.

The Beginning of a New Era

If the main carryovers from last year were always going to primarily be Sean Johnson, Marco Pappa, Patrick Nyarko, Logan Pause, and Gonzalo Segares, this 2011 Chicago Fire team never stood a chance. The team in front of our eyes has the chance to become the largest rebuilding project in the past five years if not in the entire history of MLS based on the percentages. I find this to be very positive because instead of trying to supplant our team with several veterans in the MLS Re-entry draft or bring in a trio of designated players, the front office put an emphasis on building a young core of players to build on for the future. If you can believe it, there's even more numbers to look at but I'm saving you from chart overload and will break out follow-ups in the next couple of days.

Bottom line is I couldn't disagree more with anyone who is currently calling for Frank Klopas to be fired as technical director. Head coach... that's another conversation. Technical director? I like what I see. Look around at the individual young talent on this team and you'll see it's pretty good. Some players are encountering growing pains but other times there are flashes of brilliance. The numbers show that MLS teams need more time to gel. We need to be aiming to replicate the stability and success of cores like Real Salt Lake, the LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders and FC Dallas. The numbers are trending even more in the ‘large carryover' direction as time goes on. Whether or not Klopas set the team up this way on purpose is up for debate but here you have a good group of young players to figure out in the off-season. The numbers suggest the Fire will be very strong in 2012 if we stay the course.

Klopas gets away scott free?

Klopas as technical director should be given some leeway for the next couple of months. However, 2012 will be a big test of his ability to mold a team together. He does deserve some of the blame for the failure of the 2010 team. We had a high carryover number of 71% and the parts that were brought in did not gel. If anything, Klopas' might have the vision to find useful parts like a Don Nelson in the NBA but like Nelson, lack the ability to put together a team that can go over the edge to win a championship. The upcoming U.S. Open Cup game(s) will be a part of the test because he essentially has the opportunity to craft together a team that is focused on beating Richmond and then hopefully FC Dallas or Seattle. Since the Fire have that path in the U.S. Open Cup, you have to admit that Klopas has set up the team well for 2012 while also providing the Fire with the best chance to win a trophy this year out of the entire Eastern Conference. This despite the fact that the numbers suggest we were out of the race for two of the trophies from the very beginning. For now, it's bravo.

What the future holds

It cannot be stated enough that 2010 marked the very end of a solid core of players consisting of Brian McBride, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, C.J. Brown, Wilman Conde, Chris Rolfe, Jon Busch, Justin Mapp, Bakary Soumare, John Thorrington, and others. The success of that group is done. It died when the Fire were eliminated from the 2010 season. It drains us as Fire fans to lose in 2010 and 2011 because the result is the same on paper and in our hearts but you have to respect the process. The losing is not the same in spirit. We aren't like Toronto FC going out and spending money on big name designated players before the rest of the squad is ready to take them. What's being built here should stay here. If you wish to rip this up, you are essentially giving the team a recurring death sentence for 2012. As I wrote before the beginning of the season, the guys on this roster are here to extend a helping hand to the Chicago Fire badge and the cf97 tradition. I didn't realize it would take us so long to find success together but like this city in 1871, greatness is going to take a little longer to emerge out of the rubble. This is far from the end of our collective thoughts here at Hot Time in Old Town but it does set the table for our focus going forward. Win the 2011 U.S. Open Cup. Win the 2012 off-season. Finish the 2011 season with pride and with the goal of becoming the next dynasty in Major League Soccer. We believe in it.