123 days on from last year's playoff defeat to Houston, the Fire open up the 2013 MLS campaign against two-time defending MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy Sunday afternoon (4pm CT on UniMas).
I spoke with Frank Klopas Saturday night to get his thoughts on eight storylines related to Sunday's season opener.
On Sunday Sean Johnson returns to the site where he made his MLS debut as a 21-year-old rookie back in August 2010. From your time as Technical Director, what do you remember from the lead-up to his performance in the 3-2 win over the Galaxy?
The coaches make that kind of decision but we knew Sean was a goalkeeper with a lot of ability and talent and it was a point in the season where it was a good time to give a promising player the opportunity against quality competition to see what he could do.
Obviously on that day he showed us how well he could perform in pressure situations -- he’s continued to do that for us and others have taken notice of what his play.
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The season continues to start earlier every year and forced the team to do this week’s match prep in Los Angeles… How difficult is that ahead of a big game?
It’s not ideal. We’ve been on the road for a long time but there was nothing we could do about the situation. We had to come here early because of the weather and snow back in Chicago.
It’s been good though because we’re adjusting to the time and the warmer weather here. It’s been a long time for us on the road but we’ve been looking forward to this match and obviously getting back to our normal routine in Chicago. We’re just excited that the season is here.
More than two years after tearing his achilles in the 2010 season finale at The Home Depot Center, there’s a chance Steven Kinney could be in your squad for Sunday’s match vs. the Galaxy. What are your thoughts on his recovery?
It’s been a long road for Steve but I’m very happy for him. I think it’s so important for all of us –whether you’re on the field or doing what I’m doing – I think every day we have to appreciate the opportunity we have to be in this game.
You look at a guy like Steve who did well with his chances to play his rookie year and he got that injury at the end of the season and it’s taken such a long time for him to get back. It shows a lot of character to see how he’s persevered through it all and I’m just very happy for him, after all his struggles that he is back in a position to help the team.
Do you have any superstitions the night before a game?
I don’t have anything special – nothing I wouldn’t already do in my normal routine. Tonight we’ll go see the Chivas/Columbus game because there’s a game to see and get a good night’s sleep. I’m looking forward to the match and the start of a good season.
This is your second season opener as head coach… Do you have any trouble sleeping the night before games like this?
You’re always thinking. It’s no different from when I was a player to now that I’m in this position. I think about everything and try to make sure that you’re giving attention and thinking about every little detail.
There’s excitement and some nights I get better sleep than others. It really doesn’t matter if there’s a game or not, it’s really hard for me to sleep long hours during the season. I tend to watch a lot of film and then sleep a little bit but that’s enough for me to get my energy back.
Where does Robbie Keane rank all-time as a player in MLS?
He’s one of the best players this league has ever had. When I think of his qualities as a striker and consistently being so dangerous around the box, he’s very smart a very sneaky player and he’s one of the guys that you can’t take your eyes off for 90 minutes because he can change a game with one play. He’s definitely one of the best players in the league.
Bruce Arena is your counterpart on Sunday. Is he the greatest American coach of all time?
Yeah, definitely you said it. He’s done more than any of us. What more can I say about Bruce?
Is your favorite personal soccer memory in Los Angeles the 1998 MLS Cup win (over Bruce Arena’s D.C. United) or the U.S. team’s 2-1 upset victory over Colombia at the 1994 FIFA World Cup?
That’s a tough one. I can’t pick one or the other because think they’re both great memories that represent different parts and circumstances of my career.
Obviously you feel with the Fire we won our first championship out here but what we accomplished in ’94 with that team and without a professional league in this country -- that was huge as well.
They’re both different but they’re two memories that are very special in my heart.