Before leaving for the start of the 2012 MLS Combine earlier today, Frank Klopas sat down with me to discuss his thoughts on the 2012 Chicago Fire schedule.
For the fourth time in three years, the Fire will be the opponent in either another team’s new stadium or play the first home game against an incoming expansion team when the team visits Montreal on March 17. Talk about your opening match of 2012.
We’re excited because it’s the start of the season. I’m sure that going into a city where its an expansion team coming in, there’s obviously going to be a lot of excitement in that city, you know the stadium’s going to be full, a lot of energy in the stadium.
It’s something that for sure players love going into an atmosphere that is loud and boisterous, playing in front of a packed house. There will be a lot of excitement not only for them but for us as well, after a long offseason to get back into it I know is something the players look forward to.
Are you surprised the team isn’t opening BBVA Compass Stadium later in the year in Houston?
(Laughs) Actually yes, I’m quite surprised given the track record we’re not opening that stadium too… I think the important thing to understand is that it’s a different game for both teams. Mentally we have to be prepared for that game, with all the buzz that will be around it and I know we will. We finished 2011 off on a positive note and we have to be ready to build from that.
The first two matches of the season also have you coaching on the sidelines against two former teammates in Jesse Marsch (Montreal) and for the March 24 home opener against the Philadelphia Union and Peter Nowak. Talk about coaching against both guys…
They’re both guys that I know well and have a history with playing together and representing the Fire here in the early days of the club. Now everyone has different roles – they’re coaching different teams and I’m coaching the team I really love and finished my career with. You look forward to those matches not only because you know the guys but for us its just an opportunity to get the season started.
Knowing those guys, it’s a given that they’re going to have their teams ready, so we have to be very focused, ready, concentrated. You look forward to those matches but when you step on the field I want my team to win more than anything.
The team will get their first crack at Seattle since losing to the Sounders 2-0 in last year’s Open Cup Final when they visit Toyota Park on April 28. Is that a match that sticks out among the 34-game schedule?
It’s different. That was a final and more than anything we played Seattle close in the matches throughout the season and the championship is a big game and I think the experience was good. For sure we felt disappointd not to win the Open Cup but Seattle is a very good team and we just have to be prepared.
For us it’s a home game and winning here at Toyota Park is very important. It’s a team that by now we know very well. Like I said before, we want to continue where we finished off last season, especially the record we had at the end of the season at home, coming out with a different energy and commitment level. Going into that game we have to make sure the team understands the opponent and for 90 minutes we’re going to do whatever it takes to get three points at home. That’s the kind of mentality we need to have for every game, but especially here at home in front of our great crowd.
With 19 teams in the league now, Major League Soccer has returned to an unbalanced schedule after two years where every team played each other twice each. One of the benefits is less travel, with the team not visiting a Western Conference opponent after July. How do you feel about going back to an uneven set up?
I liked it where you would play home and away but the one thing you can’t underestimate is the travel in this league. Throughout a long season it does take its toll. Some of the teams in our league we play three times which means shorter trips -- it cuts down on the travel for sure, but the schedule is also more condensed with a lot of games. It does help when you don’t have to travel quite as far but you’ve got to manage the amount of games you’re playing in close proximity.