CHICAGO – With just two matches remaining in the Chicago Fire’s 2010 regular season, balances are already being drawn on what has been a subpar season and only the second not to produce a postseason appearance for the Fire.
There is one evaluation that matters as much as any — that of first-year manager Carlos de los Cobos.
The language barrier for the Mexican head coach has played a part in how effective he has been in making his voice heard and getting his point across through the mainstream media this year.
MLSsoccer.com sat down with De los Cobos for a conversation in his native tongue to get his overview of the season before the curtains close on the Fire.
“I would classify it as a season of learning for me, of adaptation and of familiarity with the league,” he said. “Logically, it [the season] has served me well. The results have not been what we would have liked, but they are logical if you take into consideration that this team is different from last year’s.”
The former El Salvador national team coach divides the season into two.
He says that through the 15th match of the regular season, just before the transfer season, the team had developed some degree of consistency.
“The numbers and statistics prove it with a young group, most of which up to a certain point had very little participation last season and had become important players [on the 2010 team],” he said. “We were achieving something good.”
The team went 5-5-5 (20 points) in its first 15 games and the Fire were three points out of a playoff spot at the midway point of the season. They also had a five-game undefeated stretch at one point and scored 21 goals along the way.
Then Designated Players Nery Castillo and Freddie Ljungberg joined the fold, as well as Gonzalo Segares and Bratislav Ristic. Meanwhile, Justin Mapp and Tim Ward left town and the moves meant the team needed to regroup.
“We had a system that we were using, a set system on the field and we had to adapt to another,” De los Cobos said. “It’s been interesting … We've paid our dues in this first year.”
It’s hard to argue the point. The team has gone 3-7-3 (12 points) in its last 13 games with just 12 goals scored. The rumors of a potential return to manage the Salvadoran national team, which he did not entirely defuse, did not help matters.
Nonetheless, Chicago could have been shooting for a postseason spot had it not been for a series of four matches in which they gave up late goals and left precious total of five points on the table.
“This is in a way a reflection of the lack of experience,” de los Cobos said. “You have to understand that we have young players on the field. We have a lack of concentration in some areas. This has to make us better players and we need to learn from the mistakes … This has been embarrassing for the team because most of these points were close to being in the bag.”
De los Cobos was the last MLS manager hired in the offseason when he was unveiled on Jan. 11 — three days before the SuperDraft. Aside from the two Salvadoran players and the arrival of Nery Castillo, whose father is close friends with de los Cobos, the Mexican manager has not exactly had the opportunity to place his stamp on the squad.
“I don’t mention this a lot because I never wanted this to appear as an excuse,” he said. “But now I’m confident that with the support of our executives it can happen that I have the opportunity to pick out the characteristics of the players that have to be with the Chicago Fire next year. This will allow me to develop what I expect on the field.
“We’re already working, talking, preparing and planning for what’s to come and for me as a coach and for the club this means a lot.”
One player he believes will be an important part of 2011 is Castillo, who de los Cobos admits needs more time after two years of virtual inactivity.
It’s hard to believe that with a year left on his two-year contract, de los Cobos will not be there with Castillo — especially after what’s been invested in the last 12 months.
“In building for next season, from my point of view is that I feel a lot more confident and prepared to face this mission with greater conviction,” he said.