Nearly ten years ago, Frank Klopas made a choice. He had just stepped down as head coach of the Chicago Fire after two seasons, a team he had been involved with in some capacity for a good part of 15 years as a player, trainer, technical director, and manager, but it was time for a new challenge. That new opportunity brought Klopas north of the border.
“There’s always a comfort level when you’re home here,” Klopas said Wednesday. “The media, you feel very comfortable in your own surroundings at home, you always feel people are there to protect you.”
In taking the head coaching job at what was then the Montréal Impact, he stepped outside his comfort zone and into an unfamiliar environment. In close to two full seasons with the Impact, Klopas won a Canadian Championship and led his team to the final of the 2015 CONCACAF Champions League against Club América, and while they ultimately came up just short against Las Águilas, the experience helped him grow in confidence as a coach.
“That was a big move going to Montréal,” Klopas added. “I think I grew a lot as a coach, but also I had a lot of confidence… I had an opportunity to coach really some big personalities and some big players. I think that was a big step in my career.”
When Klopas’ time in Québec came to an end, he felt that he was done with coaching. He was at a point in his life where he wanted to come back to Chicago and help the club in a different capacity. First, that meant as a broadcaster, then as an assistant coach, and now, once again, as interim manager.
Since taking over the position in May, Klopas has had a mixed bag of results, but the team are in a better position now than they were at the start of the season. The 57-year-old coach has overseen important wins over St. Louis, Portland, Nashville, and Toronto that reignited postseason hopes, and after a stretch of winning six in seven games, the Fire were firmly in a playoff spot at the Leagues Cup break.
However, a four-match losing streak with crushing defeats to Orlando, L.A. Galaxy, Vancouver, and D.C. has seen the Fire tumble down to tenth place with just seven games remaining. That sets the stage for Saturday night’s showdown at Stade Saputo against CF Montréal, who sit in eighth place and are just three points clear of the Fire. It will be a massive game with huge playoff implications, as Montréal themselves have done well to overcome a turbulent start to 2023 and put themselves in a position to make the postseason against all the odds.
“When you give up 11 goals in four matches, the focus really has been in just getting really defensive organization, and just being really disciplined and staying compact,” Klopas said. “I think we lost a little bit of our structure, in some of those matches we got really stretched as a team… on the other hand, [we want to work on] our inability to finish the chances, because we had quality chances and we didn’t put them away, but the main focus has been really on just making sure that we tied up things defensively.”
Last time the Fire met Montréal, it was one of the most convincing performances of the season, a fairly straightforward 3-0 win behind goals from Brian Gutiérrez, Maren Haile-Selassie, and Xherdan Shaqiri. The Fire thrived in transition moments and got the most out of their star players, breaking down Montréal’s 3-4-3 and looking efficient on all fronts. While Stade Saputo has traditionally been a difficult place to play, Klopas hopes to take confidence from the showing earlier in the season and earn a much-needed victory in his first return to Montréal as a visiting head coach since departing almost a decade ago.
“It will be exciting to go back. I had great memories in Montréal. The city was great. The people were great. It’s always good to go back, but it will be better going back and coming home with three points, I’ll tell you that.”