Last night, the Chicago Fire defeated MLS expansion team St. Louis CITY 2-1 in an entertaining U.S. Open Cup match a Bridgeview, but there’s little time to mess around ahead of Saturday’s rematch in the league. The team returned to training today, though most of the players who played significant minutes yesterday weren’t out on the field and instead focused on regenerative work ahead of Saturday’s showdown at the Lakefront. After practice concluded, we spoke with Chicago Fire interim head coach, Frank Klopas.
Klopas discusses new role
There’s arguably no name more synonymous with the Chicago Fire than Frank Klopas, who kicked off his third go-around as head coach with an important win last night. Having previously managed the team from 2011 to 2013, as well as briefly in 2021, he’s someone who knows the Fire better than just about anyone else, and with the club looking to get their season back on track, he’ll be tasked with steering the ship back towards the playoffs.
“Any time I can be in any position to help the club, it’s really something special to me. I’m forever grateful,” Klopas told us after training today. “I’ve been involved with the club in various roles and in anything I do, I just want to give my best for the club because I love the club. I care about the club and I care about the city and I really want to see us be it to one of the premier clubs not, not only in this league but in the world. I think that’s the goal that our owner has and we all have.”
Prior to the firing of Ezra Hendrickson on Monday morning, the Fire sat in 14th place in the Eastern Conference standings. Though they were just three points outside a playoff spot, something just didn’t seem to be clicking, especially late in games; the Fire dropped many points from winning positions, a problem that dates back to 2022, and the team could have been much higher if they had kept their discipline in the final stages.
Klopas doesn’t feel that there’s a need for huge changes in approach, but of course, some things need to change to get more points on the board, and that includes tactical flexibility based on the opposition.
“You don’t change the whole makeup of the car, but you might adjust a couple of things,” he says. “How to attack a different opponent, how to defend a different opponent in the end.”
The #10 question
A central debate within the Fire fanbase this season has concerned two of the team’s most gifted and talented attacking players, Xherdan Shaqiri and Brian Gutiérrez. Both prefer to play through the middle as a playmaking number ten, but there is only room for one of the field at a time. Under Hendrickson, Shaqiri always played in that role when he was available, and Gutiérrez was forced to play other unfamiliar positions including on the wing and in the double pivot. The new coach believes that there could be a better way to fit them in together.
“If we change some things around, we thought about it, Shaqiri has played out wide before with Switzerland,” Klopas says.”It’s [a] role that he likes to be in anyway, he likes to come into those spaces, he’s already inside with his left foot. That’s a possibility we might see.”
“The good thing is that you have two really quality players on the field. It’s exciting for the fans, It’s exciting for us, not so good for the other teams but, that’s the way we like it.”
U-20 World Cup roster named, Slonina called in
For months, the uncertainty of whether Gutiérrez and Chris Brady would be able to join up with the United States national team for the Under-20 World Cup loomed over the Fire, and today that controversy was officially well and truly put to rest with the roster announcement. It’s been clear for a couple of weeks that the two young stars weren’t going to be released for the tournament, but now, there’s no going back. Gutiérrez has expressed disappointment in not heading to Argentina for global soccer’s premier youth competition, but now all focus shifts back to getting the job done with the Fire.
“It’s always tough,” Klopas told us, “but I always, I always say club before country. It’s unfortunate that these tournaments are at a time when we have big games. [Guti] is an important part of the team. He’s been incredible. He continues to grow and he’s playing at a really high level here and the exposure he will get here or there. Everybody wants to participate in a World Cup, so I know I’m sure that wasn’t easy for him but he’s a kid from Chicago and he would do anything for the club“
Though Gutiérrez and Brady won’t be there, Chicago won’t be totally unrepresented. Former Fire homegrown Gaga Slonina, who moved to Chelsea this offseason in a blockbuster move worth up to $15 million, will be the U.S.’ starting goalkeeper at the World Cup. Slonina made his senior men’s national team debut against Serbia this January, and he’ll be one of four players on the roster with senior international experience.
The latest injury updates
On a positive note, there are reasons for optimism regarding the Fire’s recent injury woes. The preferred starting center backs, Rafa Czichos and Carlos Terán, both missed out on last night’s squad due to minor injuries, but both returned to the training pitch today. Czichos and Terán were participants in the majority of the portion of training open to the media, though they were separated from the rest of the group towards the end. It’s not a guarantee that they’ll be back for this weekend, but things are looking promising.
DP Jairo Torres was a full participant in training today, and it seems like he should be able to play a role on Saturday after picking up an injury in the first game of the season. His return is a welcome one, as he showed progress in preseason and in the opening game before he was forced to come off early.
Chris Mueller has been dealing with a minor injury that kept him out of the weekend’s match, and while he was able to come off the bench in last night’s Open Cup game, he’s still a doubt for the weekend. Mueller played 45 minutes yesterday, and he will be medically examined to determine if he’ll be available. A fully fit and confident Mueller will be a key part of the Fire’s attack, and once he’s back to his best, the team will be significantly improved going forward.