Objectives clear for Fire interim coach Frank Klopas

The Fire are counting on Klopas to correct some of the issues that led to Ezra Hendrickson’s downfall and turn this year around.

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Frank Klopas replaced Ezra Hendrickson as Fire coach.

Frank Klopas replaced Ezra Hendrickson as Fire coach.

Courtesy of the Fire

When Frank Klopas took over as interim coach after the 2021 dismissal of Raphael Wicky, there were six games left in a lost season. The goal then was to see out the schedule, hope Klopas’ immense pride in the club resonated with the roster and disgruntled fans, and to get young players more experience in effectively meaningless matches.

This time around, the objective is different.

The Fire sit 14th in the Eastern Conference, but have 24 games to go and are just three points out of sixth place. They’re still alive in the US Open Cup after beating St. Louis City on Tuesday, and are optimistic that Klopas can help the Fire (2-3-5, 11 points) correct some of the issues that led to Ezra Hendrickson’s downfall and turn this year around.

As for what specific changes Klopas will make to a group that’s shown flashes of promise, that remains to be seen.

“Short-term, more than anything, it’s good to give the team confidence and make sure that they are really clear about the game plan, very clear about their roles on the field, and more than anything, man, it’s like we’ve got to go out there and enjoy the game,” Klopas said.

Klopas’ passion for soccer and the Fire is obvious. Tuesday’s win over St. Louis City marked the beginning of his third tenure coaching the Fire, and gave him the odd distinction of leading the team during all three logo eras: the original, the reviled and short-lived Fire Crown and the current mark.

Trivia aside, Klopas must find a way for the Fire to succeed beyond his enthusiasm for the franchise. The key problems are how to hold late leads, and to figure out how to get the most out of Xherdan Shaqiri while not stunting the growth of Brian Gutierrez.

On Tuesday, the Fire jumped out to a 2-0 lead and held on for a 2-1 win, but were lucky at times that St. Louis wasn’t clinical in front of goal. Meanwhile, with Rafael Czichos out injured, Klopas made Shaqiri the captain on Tuesday and started him in the middle of the attack with Gutierrez on the wing.

“Got to find a way how you can get him to have a bigger impact in games and maybe he takes one game where he has, you know, a breakout game where he’s able to do that,” Klopas said of Shaqiri. “He’s got tremendous quality, and myself, I believe in order for this team to move forward and reach the goals that we believe we can, Shaqiri has to play a big part in that because he’s got so much quality that he can impact the game at any given moment.”

Even when his changes from Hendrickson become more apparent, the Fire won’t have to worry about getting to know their new coach. The schedule, which had them on the field a day after Hendrickson’s dismissal and again Saturday against St. Louis (6-3-1, 19 points) in league play, will help the Fire get used to their new reality even quicker.

“I think everyone at the club, all the players are so comfortable with Frank and the rest of the staff,” defender Wyatt Omsberg said. “We know we’re in really good hands.”

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