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).”