Note: This interview took place one day before MLS’s decision to suspend play for 30 days due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
After the Chicago Fire’s most recent training session was over, Frank Klopas walked up to chat with reporters. He was his usual happy, excited self. But on this day, the handshakes were replaced with elbow taps.
Klopas is a couple months in to his new job serving as an assistant coach to Raphael Wicky. He said so far, it beats his old gig as the club’s TV color analyst for one big reason: proximity.
“When you’re not a player, you always want to be as close as you can to the game,” Klopas said with a smile on his face. “The booth was great, but it’s still a little bit higher up (laughs). This is a little better because it’s closer.”
Klopas and Wicky have actually worked together once before. When Wicky was working as a Youth National Team coach at U.S. Soccer, Klopas helped him run camps.
“We worked with the national team when Tab [Ramos] was there, so we would get together and discuss players,” Klopas said. “Obviously I felt really strong in the fact that I thought this guy would be great to coach the team here.
“When he asked me to be involved, I said ‘You know, Rapha, I don’t want to coach, but I will do whatever it takes to help you, to help this organization,’ and that’s what I’m here to do.”
In addition to being one of the greatest players in club history, Klopas has now served the Fire as an assistant coach, a head coach, a technical director, and, of course, a TV analyst. He also won the 2014 Canadian Championship as head coach of Montreal Impact. Earlier this season, Wicky mentioned how important it was to have a guy like Klopas—with his level of MLS experience—by his side as he was getting used to his new job.
“He brings a lot to our team, to our staff,” Wicky said. “Obviously, he knows the league really well. He has coached, he brings a lot of knowledge. This is obviously very, very important, and he’s a great character. He’s a great man to have.”
“Listen. It’s been really first class, for me,” Klopas said. “You know, I told all the people when I came back, my heart has always been with the Chicago Fire. My heart is here.”
For Wicky, building the Fire Academy system is vital. Just this week, the club announced the signings of three Academy players to Homegrown contracts—Brian Gutiérrez, Alex Monis and Javier Casas. Klopas was thrilled for the new signings, because he recalls what it meant to him to sign a pro contract.
“I remember the day when I did it,” Klopas said. “It was the happiest day of my life to have the opportunity to fulfill my dream, and I did so also in Chicago. So, what a great day it is for them.
“A lot of credit to Rapha, because he wants to give those guys the best opportunity possible to be successful, and the only way to do that is putting them in the best environment possible, bringing them with the first team.”
Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Fire’s March 21 “Homecoming” match at Soldier Field is off, for now. But, when the MLS season begins again, and the team finally makes its return to the historic stadium, Klopas will be excited and emotional.
“It’s always gonna be an honor for me to represent this club. Always,” Klopas said. “And I’m looking forward to going to Soldier Field. Brings back a lot of memories. But the good thing is that’s all in the past, and I’m looking forward to making some new memories.”