BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — It only lasted a few seconds, but a small grin broke out on Frank Klopas' face during his press conference following the Chicago Fire's 2-1 win over Montreal on Saturday, and he wasn't even talking about anyone on the field during the short-handed victory.
What procured the smile, which had been absent for much of the Fire's rough start to the season, was talk about Arévalo Ríos, the Fire's new Designated Player, who is waiting to join a team that has turned around a once-dismal season. While Ríos didn't necessarily fill a position of pressing need, Klopas and the Fire front office have been outspoken about their excitement with having a player of his caliber.
"He's an unbelievable quality player and it speaks volumes of the commitment," Klopas said. "Everybody can talk [expletive] and everything about the commitment of our owner, excuse my language, to bring a guy like that at this point because this is a world-class player, and I can guarantee you a lot of teams, a lot of teams, would not have made that commitment, but it's all about winning.
"He's been there, we haven't always gotten it right. This guy's a world-class player. We made the commitment we said, 'This is the guy, bring him,' and he brings depth, leadership and all that stuff, so that's what it's all about."
Ten games ago, Mike Magee joined newly acquired Bakary Soumare to give the Fire a boost immediately. After starting the season 2-7-3, Chicago's seven wins in their last 10 games have been more than any team in the league.
Now, they hope Ríos and and new DP forward Juan Luis Anangonó, who made his MLS debut when he appeared in last Wednesday's US Open Cup semifinal vs. D.C. United, can give them a similar boost and help them jump into a playoff spot.
"Magic Mike has been great for us," midfielder Joel Lindpere told MLSsoccer.com. "You know, we have some new Designated Players, so they've got to show up. That's the way the league is built, and when we see that they bring the DP's in, and they make the strength of the team, so those are the guys that need to make a difference in the team."
Ríos could play as soon as this weekend if the Fire are able to clear up an international spot, and Anangonó is inching closer and closer to 100 percent after spending a few weeks with the team.
While both have international pedigree – Ríos is a regular for Uruguay and Anangonó is in Ecuador's player pool – Lindpere is itching to see how they perform in MLS over the final stretch of the season.
"We don't know nothing, we've never seen them play," Lindpere said. "They are from different leagues, so it's excitement. You want to see how they combine and how they adjust and also it's also how to see how they manage the situation, to come in and make the situation better and help this team out. I think Juan played his first game and did a very good job."
Chicago now have three huge Eastern Conference matchups against New England, Sporting Kansas City and Houston. With strong results in all three games, they could put themselves securely in a playoff spot, something that seemed like a far-off dream a few months ago.
"I think everybody had written us off for the start but it's not how you start it's how you finish," Klopas said. "They have never given up and they never will until the end. Now we just have to move ahead, it's a good feeling but the commitment has to be even more from everyone in order to reach our goal."