The Fire began a major upheaval of the team’s soccer operations on Wednesday, parting ways with head coach Frank Klopas and President of Soccer Operations Javier Leon. The moves come after the Fire pulled off a middle-to-late season surge to find themselves in a playoff spot on the final day of the season. Unfortunately, the Fire dropped from a potential third place finish and a first round bye in the playoffs to sixth and out in a 5-2 loss at the New York Red Bulls.
Both Leon and Klopas joined the Fire’s front office in 2008, and Klopas, a former Fire player and a winner of three championships with the team, the 1998 MLS Cup and the 1998 and 2000 U.S. Open Cups, assumed the head coaching position on an interim bases in 2011 upon the dismissal of his predecessor, Carlos de los Cobos. The Fire went on to have a late-season surge that season, finishing just one spot out of the playoffs. The team would make the postseason in 2012, but falter late to finish in fourth seed and were eliminated in one game against the Houston Dynamo in the Knockout Round.
While the jobs of both were often speculated to be on the hot seat, Fire owner Andrew Hauptman spoke highly of Klopas, who official stepped down rather than having been fired. “No one appreciates Frank’s passion, integrity and competitive spirit more than me,” said Hauptman. “Frank has been a big part of this organization for many years as a player, Ring of Fire member, technical director and coach. I want to personally thank him for his efforts over this period. He is a wonderful friend and will always be a member of the Fire family.”
Despite the club reporting that Klopas had merely stepped down, Hauptman acknowledged that the move fit well with the club’s future plans from a timing standpoint. “There have been many highlights over these years but I think now is an appropriate time to make a transition to new leadership. Of course, making this team compete for championships on a consistent basis is our first priority,” said Hauptman.
The Fire started 2013 with a 2-7-2 start, the worst in club history, before acquiring Mike Magee from the LA Galaxy and surging towards the once seemingly out of reach playoffs as Magee added fifteen goals down the stretch.
First reported on Tuesday by Orrin Schwarz of the Daily Herald, the Fire will look for Klopas’s successor to be able to fill the roles of both head coach and general manager.