Two things became obvious when Fire owner Andrew Hauptman introduced Frank Yallop as the club’s new head coach and director of soccer operations on Thursday.
For one, the club will have a new look on the soccer operations side. There won’t be any division of authority. Yallop will have it all, taking over a dual role similar to that commanded by Bruce Arena with the Los Angeles Galaxy, and Yallop is eminently qualified to handle it.
For another, the club built by Javier Leon and Frank Klopas over the last six seasons, will undergo a housecleaning. Leon, as president of soccer operations, and Klopas, as head coach, were dismissed on Wednesday after the Fire missed the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. The club hasn’t won a postseason match since 2009.
Hauptman was quick to take action after the Fire’s blowout road loss to the New York Red Bulls on Sunday. A win would have given the Fire a third-place finish in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference and a tie would have meant a return to the playoffs. Instead the Fire gave up four unanswered goals in the second half en route to a 5-2 beating that ended the season with a thud.
[RELATED: Fire dismiss head coach Frank Klopas]
That embarrassment alone didn’t trigger Hauptman’s actions.
"It was very swift, but I didn’t make my decision on a particular result," said Hauptman, who took over ownership of the Fire in 2008 and made Leon and Klopas his key personnel on the soccer operations side. "It was on the body of work done over six years. I’ve been patient, and it was time for a change."
While Klopas -- thanks to both his playing and coaching record and general popularity with the city’s fan base – is a Chicago soccer icon, there was no question the new Frank looks like a better option than the departed one. Yallop is the most qualified head coach the Fire has ever had.
The club’s first two coaches, Bob Bradley and Dave Sarachan, were in their first stints as MLS head coaches., and the Fire hasn’t won a trophy since they left.
Juan Carlos Osorio, who replaced Sarachan, had spent only two seasons as a head coach – with Colombian side Millonarios. Denis Hamlett, who replaced Osorio, was an assistant under all three of his predecessors. Carlos de los Cobos, Hamlett’s successor, came directly out of the Mexican league and struggled with learning English as well as adapting to a new league. Klopas’ only head coaching stint had been two seasons with the indoor Chicago Storm. He was the Fire’s technical director while de los Cobos was in charge on the field.
And now there’s Yallop. His resume overwhelms those of previous Fire coaches.
As a player he was a defender for 16 seasons, most for Ipswich Town in the English Premier League. He also played internationally for Canada and concluded his playing career with Major League Soccer’s now defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny from 1996-98.
Yallop, 49, began his coaching career in MLS, with assistant’s jobs with Tampa Bay and D.C. United. He landed the head job with the San Jose Earthquakes two days before the MLS SuperDraft in 2001 and acquired Jeff Agoos, Landon Donovan and Dwayne DeRosario during the preseason. Those stars carried San Jose to its first MLS Cup title and the Earthquakes took the Cup again in 2003 before Yallop was named head coach of Canada’s national team.
He left that job in 2006 to become head coach of the Los Angeles Galaxy in June, 2006. Yallop left after the Galaxy missed the playoffs in 2007 to return to San Jose. His Earthquakes won the MLS Supporters Shield for best regular season record in 2012 but the two-time MLS Coach-of-the-Year left the team midway through this season.
"Both parties came to the decision that it was best to part ways," Yallop said at Thursday’s press conference. "There was nothing ugly."
After breaking with San Jose Yallop immediately became a candidate for most every job opening in MLS. He was the leading candidate for the vacant Vancouver Whitecaps’ post when Hauptman offered him the dual roles with the Fire.
"That’s something I was looking for," said Yallop.
"His title speaks for itself. I feel blessed to have Frank here,"The said Hauptman. "There’s no doubt we have someone who can straddle both sides. He has all the necessary skills, experience and leadership. I’m really confident in his soccer acumen and in his record for building team spirit with all the clubs he’s been with. He’s exactly what our club needs."
Yallop arrived in Chicago at 1 a.m. to attend his press conference. He’s expected to settle in Chicago next week and will conduct at least one training session with the present Fire players. He hasn’t made any decisions on personnel, either players or coaching staffers.
"Everything happened very quickly, and I’m very excited," said Yallop. "Andrew really pushed it and made me feel welcome."
Yallop said the current Fire roster needs "a little tinkering," but Hauptman suggested it might get more than that with Yallop determining all the player acquisitions.
"I’m incredibly happy with the front office we have here," said Hauptman. "But on the soccer side we’re clearly in a state of transition. For sure there will be changes. With Frank joining, this is the start. Everyone will be evaluated, and it won’t be overnight. It’ll be driven by Frank and the people around him."