Fire exec Javier Leon: Season won’t stay this bad
BY SETH GRUEN For Sun-Times Media March 30, 2013 12:48AM
Midfielder Dilly Duka (right, trying to stop Sporting Kansas City’s Benny Feilhaber) hasn’t brought the spark the Fire expected. | Ed Zurga~Getty Images
Updated: May 30, 2013 5:27PM
Javier Leon, the Fire’s president of soccer operations, never has claimed to be a psychic, but he’s relying heavily on an ability to predict the future.
Leon seems convinced the Fire will turn around what has been an unanticipated disappointing season so far. At 0-3-1, the Fire has yet to earn a victory, but Leon and his staff remain confident and have no immediate plans to sign players from other leagues.
‘‘We’re operating on the basis that this team is going to improve,’’ Leon said. ‘‘You always have contingency plans, but the basis of our operation at this moment is that we’re going to improve. We feel, again, that we had a difficult start partially explained by the number of setbacks that we had with injuries.’’
Center back Arne Friedrich, outside midfielder Dilly Duka and captain Logan Pause have missed games because of injuries. But while their absences have affected the Fire’s performance, the poor results are largely because of an ineffective new-look midfield.
During the offseason, Leon orchestrated three separate trades for midfielders Jeff Larentowicz, Joel Lindpere and Duka. Larentowicz and Lindpere are accomplished Major League Soccer players, and Duka is regarded as having tremendous potential, but all three have disappointed.
Teamed with outside midfielder Patrick Nyarko, who has the Fire’s only goal this season and is arguably its most talented player, the central line has been inconsistent in winning balls in the midfield. That has put huge pressure on a back line that was a strength for the team last season.
Leon’s comments came before the Fire lost 1-0 to lower-division NASL side Minnesota United FC on Friday, but the Fire’s offensive problems were obvious before.
Even if its midfield were to meet expectations, the Fire still clearly lacks a dominant goal-scorer needed to make a deep run in the playoffs. That was apparent in a 4-1 loss at home to Chivas USA last Sunday.
Leon’s optimism likely rests on coach Frank Klopas’ history of maximizing his roster. In 2011, Klopas took over as interim coach after Carlos de los Cobos was fired in the middle of the season and the Fire was among the worst teams in MLS. The Fire won eight of its last 11 games and nearly made the playoffs.
With a nearly identical roster last season, Klopas took the Fire to the playoffs for the first time in two years — reason to speculate that adding talent would pay dividends.
‘‘[We are] just focusing on making sure that everybody stays on the same page without going crazy,’’ Leon said. ‘‘Oftentimes it changes, and that’s what we’re betting on.’’