When the Chicago Fire hired Carlos de los Cobos as its coach in January 2010, club officials described him as an outside-the-box thinker, someone who was willing to try new things.
He did, but in a season and a third those new ideas didn’t work out well for de los Cobos or the Fire.
Under interim coach Frank Klopas, the Fire played more “inside the box” and looked more comfortable doing it Saturday in a 0-0 draw against Seattle, especially in the first half.
“It’s a bit more conventional,” midfielder Daniel Paladini agreed Wednesday before boarding a plane for Thursday’s game at Sporting Kansas City (9 p.m., ESPN2). “We’re playing a little bit different now. It’s a little bit more direct, but with a purpose, not just playing kickball. We’re not trying to lump it in the corner and let’s go chase. We’re trying to find our forwards deep, not in the air, find their feet and start playing in their half rather than in our defensive third.”
It’s just one game, but what we saw Saturday looked more like what we’re used to seeing in MLS play.
“I thought it was good,” Klopas said. “In the few days that we worked together you saw some good ideas that we worked on and tried to do, especially with Seattle because they’re heavy goalside. And we talked about constantly switching the point of attack and looking to hit them with diagonal balls on the weak side with overlapping runs. And you could see we had moments in the game where we strung together 8-9-10 passes and we switched the point of attack from one side to the other and with good movement off the ball, which created opportunities for us.
“Look, you’ve got to just keep working. Things don’t happen overnight.”
The change isn’t night and day. It’s more subtle than that. But little things can make a big difference.
“Carlos wanted us to play straight from the back,” Paladini said. “Let’s see if we can build from the back. And we did well. It just wasn’t as productive. If you get pinched in the back, you’re 30 yards away from your goal rather than 60 yards away from goal. It’s a big difference.”
“We’ve got to play smart,” Klopas added. “We’ve got to make good decisions based on what the other team is giving us. I don’t think it’s smart to play the ball in front of your own net and take risks in front of your own net when we have a striker that’s big and strong. And now we can play more direct at times and push our lines up and win the ball there and play in front of the opposing team’s net.”
The result Saturday was the same — the Fire’s winless streak now stands at 10 games — but coming against a good team like Seattle and playing a style the players are more familiar with, Paladini said he and his teammates are upbeat.
“I feel like we’re getting prepared right for the game,” he said. “Practice is more intense. The stuff we’re doing in training now, it’s a bit more game-like, and I think we turned a corner against Seattle.”
Thursday’s game in Kansas City will be the second time the Fire has helped an opponent open a new stadium. The club hopes for a better result than the 4-2 loss at Portland in April.
What the players and interim coach really want to do is keep improving and show there’s life to the season. What they really want is to replace their winless streak with a winning streak.
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