Google Analytics tells me that I've gotten lots of French-Canadian traffic in the last couple days on my two-month-old piece, "Klopas the Humble.". I wonder what that's all about?
Special from Sean Spence, editor-in-chief of Hot Time In the Old Town
He - who - what now? Fotios Klopas is going to ... wait a minute. Frank Klopas is going to speak French? This I gotta hear. In Klopas, the Impact are getting precisely, as they say in England, what it says on the tin: A hard-working, self-effacing players' manager whose teams seemed to find a way to finish just the wrong side of satisfying.
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More from our team sites
That's not to say it was ever easy for Frank in Chicago. In 2011, Klopas stepped down from the Technical Director role to take over coaching a team that was on the verge of flatlining under then-manager Carlos de los Cobos. This season, the Fire staggered out of the gate, clearly unfit, putting up a 2-7-2 record before turning it around. Each time, midseason additions and a palpable will to continue fighting led Chicago to the brink of the playoffs. Klopas's teams never quit.
That said, the last three seasons have not been high-water marks for the franchise.
Despite the stirring late-season rallies, the 2011 and ‘13 teams still fell short of the playoffs. The 2012 team made the playoffs, but seemed to crumble down the stretch, backing into the postseason and surrendering meekly in a home playoff game against Houston.
As a manager, Klopas is not a modern systems-and-data technophile. You have not hired a Bielsa, or a Mourinho, or even a Porter. In the column linked above, I compared Frank to Roy Hodgson, the English national-team manager, but tactically I'd compare him more to Harry Redknapp. If there's a manager more likely to tell someone to "f**king run around a bit" (as Redknapp famously did to a player while manager of Tottenham) than Klopas, I'd like to meet him.
Frank keeps the structure simple, and wants the players to understand what's expected of them in terms of positioning, cover and runs.
This approach does recommend itself, one assumes, when the locker room is full of deeply opinionated and tactically astute players, as is the Impact's. Klopas is not the kind of manager who is going to provoke a confrontation with players out of pride, or ignore good ideas to assuage his ego. He tries hard. Generally, his players seem to like him, and they generally play hard for him.
In his time with the Fire, Frank's teams have shown a tendency to play a bit deeper than is customary in modern football, especially in the central midfield, where he likes two players who can win back possession in favor of those who keep it. His wingers have tended to play very high up the pitch, and he favors a big/little pairing up top. For a striker, he's had surprising success building teams whose shape is difficult to play against.
When it goes bad with Klopas, though, it can go really bad, and bad in ways that are maddeningly frustrating. He can be painfully slow to respond to mismatches, tactical problems or the game state; offensive subs in the 85th minute when down two goals can feel worse than no subs at all. And, like your departing ‘Swiss Volcano,' if his time with the Fire is any indication, he'll play the legs right off your starters - Klopas seems to settle on a core group of 13-15 players, and doesn't generally rotate until form or injury force his hand.
This explains the unfortunate fact that Chicago has not graduated a single player from the Fire Academy to the first team; players don't get better unless they play, and our kids haven't played, so ...
Throughout Klopas' time with the Fire, there were questions as to where the actual power lay: Did Frank make personnel decisions? Was it President of Soccer Operations Javier Leon? Others in the front office? Was, perhaps, owner Andrew Hauptman pulling some of the strings? Which brings us to Klopas' final credential: He can handle the meddling - at least emotionally.
Whatever is really going on in the Joey Saputo/Nick De Santis front office in Montreal, Frank's been there, done that; he won't cry to the media or throw anyone under the bus. Which, I suspect, may have been as important as anything else I've said here.