Offseason Plans Part 1

Klopas, Leon talk work being done for 2011

The 2010 offseason has already seemed like a long one in
Chicago Fire land. While the year had its memorable moments, the pain of not
making the playoffs for just the second time in club history has most
supporters ready to forget.

No one though feels the scourge of missing out on the postseason
more than Technical Director Frank Klopas and Andell Sports Managing Director
Javier Leon.

“You have to look at 2010 and say it was unsuccessful,” said
Klopas Thursday afternoon. “Our goal is always to be in a position to win MLS
Cup and when you don’t make the playoffs, you don’t have the chance to do that.
We’re not happy about it.”

“There’s no doubt that 2010 was a disappointing year,” added
Leon. “We’re all disappointed and it starts with our fans, our owner [Andrew
Hauptman] -- everyone. We’re very appreciative of the support our fans have
shown us despite the way our season ended.” 

Maybe the one positive side to missing the MLS Cup playoffs
is the greater amount of time to evaluate what went wrong and begin putting
together the pieces for 2011.

Klopas and his Technical Staff have been hard at work since
the first day of the close season, dealing with the retirements of striker
Brian McBride and C.J. Brown and making roster plans while keeping in mind a
number of offseason drafts that have to be juggled.

Taking salary, health and team needs into account heading the
Expansion Draft, the club left nine players exposed to the Vancouver Whitecaps
and Portland Timbers, including Designated Players Freddie Ljungberg and Nery
Castillo. Instead of snapping up one of the big names, and the salary that goes
with it, Portland selected third-year midfielder Peter Lowry while Vancouver
took veteran John Thorrington with the final pick of the draft.

The blow wasn’t just felt in a loss of talent but also in
character: Thorrington was a well-respected leader in the locker room and
provided the team with a number of memorable moments since his time with the
Fire began in 2005, and while Lowry wasn’t a first-choice starter, he could
step in to the lineup in a pinch, often providing a spark. Both were guys that
played with passion and enjoyed being part of the club.

Acknowledging concerns about Thorrington’s plaguing health
issues [he appeared in 59 games over six seasons], Klopas said that was part of
the decision to leave him unprotected.  

“It’s always hard when you lose players on your team,
especially guys that have been with you for a number of years,” he said. “The
sad thing is that you can only protect 11 players. In the middle of the field
we felt there had been opportunities this year for younger players to play and
play well. You never want to lose players but it’s a process that most teams go
through from year-to-year and you have to be prepared for it.”

Process and
Relationships

Assisting Klopas most closely during the offseason is new
Director of Player Personnel Mike Jeffries.  Having spent two stints as an assistant coach with the Fire
in previous years (1998-00; 2008), Jeffries returned to the club in October and
has been tasked specifically with working with a majority of scouting and assisting
with the Academy.

Jeffries’ involvement is one that will also allow Klopas to
delve deeper into another area according to Leon.

“From a process
standpoint, having Mike here is going to give Frank more time to develop
relationships throughout the world.  This business is all about relationships and they don’t
happen overnight, so our ability to have real discussions with other clubs –
one’s where they’re feeling a comfort level with us is growing gradually. I
think we’re at that point with Club America (Mexico) and Red Star Belgrade
(Serbia).”

Click here to read the rest of Offseason Plans Part One