Fire Assistant Coach Mike Matkovich previously served as an assistant with both Toronto FC (2007) and Chivas USA (2008) before returning to the Fire as an assistant coach last season. Interestingly enough, Preki, the coach he served under while with Chivas is now the head coach of Toronto FC.
I caught up with Matko earlier this week to see what his thoughts were on facing his two former clubs back-to-back and also asked how things were going with the United State U18 Men’s National Team.
Jeff Crandall: Last week was kind of a whirlwind for you,
spending most of the week at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA with the U.S.
U18’s. Can you talk about your experience there?
Mike Matkovich: We had a camp in LA to prepare for a tournament we’re going to in Portugal at the end of the month. I got back Saturday afternoon, a few hours before the game. I enjoy working with the national team now being the head coach, getting to make the decisions – I really enjoy that. It’s a good challenge for me to work with the younger guys.
We’re going to Portugal from May 21-May 30 and we’ll play against Norway, Romania and Portugal – all of whom will be good tests for our guys. The team looks good and we’re looking forward to competing in a few weeks.
JC: How do you feel about playing your two former clubs in back-to-back weeks?
MM: Yeah Chivas was here last week and we’re going to Toronto this week. Jesse Marsch called me up the other day and said, “The Matko Cup is starting”.
You look at both teams, there’s not many guys left from when I was there. Last week with Chivas I think I counted four or five guys and Toronto’s about the same, but that’s the nature of the business. There’s a lot of change in the landscape with players coming and going whether by choice or through a coaching or leadership change.
JC: When you play former teams is there something special or is it just another game?
MM: Really they’re both just another game on the schedule. It’s not like there’s bad blood or anything with either team. It’s still nice to see people you recognize and catch up a bit, whether it’s players or front office people, equipment managers or trainers you knew while you were there.
JC: Speaking of seeing familiar faces, you’ll see Preki again on Saturday, this time in Toronto instead of Chivas. Are you looking forward to meeting up?
MM: I enjoyed my time with Preki in LA. He treated me very well and I learned a lot. He’s a great guy – the kind of guy that would give you the shirt off his back even if he didn’t have one. We’re friends to this day and we’ll probably go grab a coffee together this weekend and catch up a bit. He’s a good coach and the thing with moving around a little bit is that you get into different environments, you learn different methods and it builds your outlook as a coach. I’ve brought back to Chicago things that I’ve learned in Toronto and with Chivas in previous years.
JC: What did you take away from the Chivas game last week?
MM: i think we played well, but we came up against a team that’s in good form right now. With the league suspending Lahoud for two games after the tackle on Justin Mapp early on, you wonder if he’d been sent off if things might have been different with a man advantage for that long. Even with that you have to give them credit for the way they played. I don’t think it was our best performance and we feel we probably could have taken three points from the game instead of one, but its in the past and you look towards the next game.
JC: How do you earn three points on Saturday
MM: (Laughs) Put the ball in the net more than they do. It’s going to be a difficult game. Our guys will need to adapt to the ambience quickly because it is such a loud and intimidating venue. The longer we can keep it tight, the pressure begins to mount on them with the crowd. Obviously from the soccer end, we need to do a better job of keeping possession. On the defensive end I thought we did a pretty good job last week, but there were a few guys that got pulled out of position at times and that hurt us some. We worked on positioning a lot this week and we feel confident going into the match on Saturday.