With the Fire making the first of probably five coaching changes in Major League Soccer in the immediate aftermath of the regular season, it wasn’t surprising what new boss Frank Yallop’s first move was.
Named head coach and director of soccer last week, Yallop clearly indicated that big changes are coming when he dismissed the four-man coaching staff that toiled under previous head coach Frank Klopas.
According to an announcement made on the club’s website, veteran MLS assistants Mike Matkovich and Leo Percovich, goalkeeper coach Aron Hyde and director of scouting and Fire Academy director Rafael Carmona won’t be back in 2014.
Matkovich spent two terms as a Fire assistant. He was on the bench from 2009-10 and then returned in 2012-13. He was also an MLS assistant on the staffs of Toronto FC (2007) and Chivas USA (2008) and was the U.S. under-18 men’s coach from 2009-11.
A long-time youth coach in the Chicago area, Matkovich was also head coach of the indoor Chicago Power when it played in the National Professional Soccer League from 1990-94.
Percovich was on the Fire staff for three seasons and Hyde for four.
It’s not unusual for a new head coach to drop the entire staff of his predecessor, but the coaching turnover in MLS for next season is definitely not the norm. Yallop’s hiring was only the start. FC Dallas and Vancouver have head coaching vacancies and the Columbus Crew and Chivas USA are expected to hire new head coaches for 2014. Both finished 2013 with interim field bosses.
That means there would be five new coaches next season, and there could be more. Only twice previously in MLS’ 18 seasons have there been as many as five new coaches in place for the following campaign.
In another Fire-related development striker Mike Magee gained support for Most Valuable Player from a high-profile former teammate. Landon Donovan of the Los Angeles Galaxy, commenting on the MLS website, called Magee "the MVP of the league."
Magee and Donovan played together in Los Angeles until Magee was sent to the Fire in exchange for midfielder Robbie Rogers, who had briefly retired from soccer after declaring that he’s gay. Magee’s acquisition triggered the Fire’s recovery from a 2-7-2 start to the season. He wound up second in MLS with 22 goals, 14 coming after the trade to the Fire, but it wasn’t enough for the Fire to return to postseason play.
Donovan’s assessment of that deal created some intrigue within MLS circles.
"Would we like to have Mike Magee here? Yes," said Donovan, as a prelude to last week’s start of postseason play. "Any team wants the MVP of the league on their team. We’re all happy for Mike, and there’s no guarantee those things (Magee’s achievements with the Fire) would have happened (in L.A.). There’s something to be said for being around your family and being close to home. Only those of us who are really close to Mike know exactly why that decision was made. The public will never know what those reasons are."
[RELATED: Fire dismiss head coach Frank Klopas]
Magee was an effective player with the Galaxy, but more in postseason than regular season play. He had eight goals in 17 playoff games over four seasons in Los Angeles.
The fact that his team didn’t qualify for the playoffs could hurt Magee’s MVP chances. Three finalists for that award will be revealed on Nov. 21 and the MVP winner will be announced on Dec. 5. Magee is also a strong candidate to make the MLS Best XI, that announcement coming on Dec. 2.
This year’s playoffs, meanwhile, are in the conference semifinal stage. The Houston Dynamo (Eastern Conference) and Seattle Sounders (Western Conference) won the Knockout Round matches between the Nos. 4 and 5 teams in their respective circuits.
The two-game semifinal series conclude Wednesday (Eastern Conference) and Thursday (Western Conference). The New England Revolution won 2-1 at home in their East opener vs. Sporting Kansas City and must protect that advantage on SKC’s pitch on Wednesday. Houston and the New York Red Bulls drew 2-2 at Houston in the other semifinal opener and will determine one berth in the Eastern Conference final at Red Bulls Arena.
The Western semifinal series will end on Thursday with Los Angeles at Real Salt Lake and Seattle at Portland. The Galaxy won 1-0 in the first game of the RSL series while Portland took a 2-1 victory in its semifinal opener.
Conference championship series are also two-game, home-and-home affaires. They begin on Saturday. The MLS Cup finals is Dec. 7.