BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Saying goodbye to someone that is so ingrained in your club and city’s soccer history is never easy. However that was the choice the club made last October as the Chicago Fire Soccer Club parted ways with head coach Frank Klopas after coming up just short of playoff qualification.
One of Chicago’s most famous soccer sons, Klopas signed with the Chicago Sting straight out of high school, played for Greek giants AEK Athens and represented the U.S. Men’s National team at the 1994 FIFA World Cup all before playing his final two seasons with the Fire in 1998-99.
His “golden goal” winner in the 1998 U.S. Open Cup final remains one of the most iconic in club history and so bringing to end his six-year tenure, first as Technical Director and then as head coach, was always going to be difficult.
Now the manager of the Montreal Impact, Klopas will face off with his former club and the man that filled his job in new Fire head coach Frank Yallop on Saturday at Olympic Stadium. Despite any potential feelings of awkwardness with the situation, new Frank says there are only good feelings between the two.
"I know Frank well, playing against him, coaching against him and socially,” Yallop said this week. “He’s a good guy. We’ll maybe have a glass of wine after the game. We’re friends -- as good as we can be from afar. I hope he does a good job up in Montreal and I’m sure he’s hoping I do well here.”
Yallop entered the fray last Halloween, just one day after the Fire parted ways with Klopas, while the former Fire manager was hired as the Impact’s third coach in as many seasons on December 18.
“When I saw Frank got that job I thought ‘wow now we’re going to be playing him three times a year,’” said Fire captain Jeff Larentowicz. “[Facing his former team] has gotta be tough for him. I think it’s going to be harder for him than it will be for us -- we just have to focus on us.”
Asked what the differences are between the two managers, Larentowicz added, “Their demeanors are different. Frank Klopas was very intense and I think more than anything you felt like he wanted to be on the field. At times he was," he joked.
“Frank Yallop is a little more laid back – he has the ability to let the players do their thing, prepares them during the week. Not that he’s not intense on the field but I think he’s a little more relaxed.”
Fire forward and 2013 MLS MVP Mike Magee shined upon his return to Chicago last May as Klopas deployed him as an out-and-out striker really for the first time since his rookie season 10 years prior.
Magee wouldn’t speak much to the differences between new and old Frank but did say, “They’re both great guys, both great coaches. Yallop’s come in and we’re pressing a lot higher. There are some bragging rights at stake but we all love Klopas and wish him nothing but the best -- just not this week.”
While Klopas has taken a new beginning in a new city, he remains recognized as an iconic Fire player. One of the newly installed banners on the east side of Toyota Park adorns his likeness and of course, he will forever be in the club’s “Ring of Fire”.
Still, Saturday’s game is a match between two coaches that are both looking for their first wins with their new clubs. According to Yallop, that’s all that will be on either man’s mind.
“I know Frank is a good guy, he had a lot of years and he’s a legend here,” he said. “He did well with this squad but there’s no difference to this game. It’s three points [on the line] for both squads. Both Franks will be trying to get three points for their team.”