As Fire assistant coach Mike Matkovich enters his second season with the first team, his boss will again be different from the year before. The Chicago soccer fixture enters his fourth season as an assistant coach in MLS, doing so with the distinction of serving under a different manager each season.
Hailing from Naperville, Matkovich found his beginning with the Chicago Magic, spending 18 years with the club while helping to build it into one of the most successful and well-respected youth clubs in the nation. His peak with the Magic came in 2000 when he was named NSCAA Coach of the Year.
"I take away a lot of pride from my time with the Magic," said Matkovich. "I played a big part in building an environmental academy at a time when those were mostly an afterthought around the country. We had a lot of success with our model, keeping it very professional and winning a lot of championships."
The very type of academy that Matkovich helped bring along during the 90's was an early predecessor to the current integrated club setup that the Chicago Fire now enjoy.
Following his time with the Magic, Matkovich took charge of the Chicago Fire Reserves (now Chicago Fire PDL), leading the club to a 79-15-4 record, four division titles and an appearance in the 2003 Premier Development League Championship match. During his time with the Fire Reserves, Matkovich coached current Fire defender Dasan Robinson as well as former Fire forward Chris Rolfe.
"This club has always been ahead of the game when it comes to player development," he remarked. "The PDL side, saw a lot of very good players come through, whether it was Dasan or Rolfe, or national team regulars like Jay DeMerit, Jonathan Spector, Brad Guzan or Ricardo Clark, the dedication to the concept has always been strong. With the recommitment to player development from our owner [Andrew Hauptman] and Carlos [de los Cobos], things will continue to go in the right direction."
With success abundant at the PDL level, Matkovich found his way north of the border, serving as an assistant coach to Mo Johnston for expansion side Toronto FC in 2007. The next year, Matkovich headed west, taking up with Chivas USA, under the direction of former U.S. international Preki. When a spot on Denis Hamlett's coaching staff opened up with his hometown club early last season, Matkovich made his way back to the Windy City.
"Working for different guys from year-to-year has been interesting. You realize there's definitely more than one way to skin a cat and part of moving around is about getting new ideas and finding different methods to work with players. I'm glad to be back because my desire was always to return to Chicago."
Now under his fourth boss in as many years, Matkovich takes on the duties of being first assistant to Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos. His role under new management will see him return to his roots, taking bigger with the club's player development initiatives as well as playing a bigger part in scouting opponents, the rest he says, remains the same.
"A lot of the things I'll be doing are the same," he said. "Though specifically I work more closely with the players on an individual basis and try to be an outlet for them, communicating what the manager wants while also giving the guys a voice at the top that they feel comfortable with."
As the Fire look forward to their next preseason match, Thursday, February 25 against Chivas de Guadalajara, Matkovich is encouraged by the team's form and the way players have received the new coaching staff.
"We have a very competitive group of players in camp this year and I think that in part comes down to the level of trialists we currently have. Carlos and Alvaro [Briones] have been a breath of fresh air to the club and really have inspired the players to raise their game early on in preseason. There's still some time before we kickoff our but we're happy so far with the work the players have put in."