MONTREAL – Frank Klopas is a coach that likes to plan long term, but that hasn’t been a luxury for coaches of the Montreal Impact in recent seasons.
In December, Klopas replaced Marco Schällibaum to become the third Impact coach in only three years since the club joined Major League Soccer in 2012.
But what’s different this year is that Klopas has not only been given the responsibility of leading the Impact as coach, he’s also been granted the title of director of player personnel.
What does “director of player personnel” mean?
“[It means] ability to make decisions on players,” Klopas told Sportsnet. “I think that a coach has to have the final decision on players. That’s a start.”
In the past, Impact coaches haven’t always been so lucky, struggling to have things their way.
Jesse Marsch, who coached Montreal in 2012, wanted to have more say as to what kind of players the Impact acquired. Since that wish was not granted, Marsch and the Impact decided it was best to part ways.
Sitting down with the Impact’s upper management after last season, Schällibaum also had differing views as to how the club needed to proceed, and that, according to the Swiss coach, proved to be the main cause for his eventual dismissal.
“There were certain things that needed to be managed in the locker room—I wanted to change a certain number of things at the club, but these changes weren’t wanted,” Schällibaum told Swiss newspaper Le Matin in December. “After discussing about it, we felt that it was better to stop there.”
Before accepting the Impact post, Klopas explained that he wanted to make doubly sure that he and the club’s upper management were on the same page.
“If you don’t see eye-to-eye on players then it will never work,” Klopas said. “This is why I think the decision [to coach the Impact] was not something that was taken in a light way and it took time.”
Born in Greece, Klopas moved to the United States when he was eight-years-old. He began his professional career with the indoor side Chicago Sting before spending nearly ten years in the Greek top flight as a striker with AEK Athens and Apollon Athens.
Though not featuring in any of the team’s games, he represented the U.S. in the 1994 World Cup, where the Americans were knocked out by eventual winners Brazil in the Round of 16.
Klopas moved back to the U.S. in 1996, where he spent one season with the Kansas City Wizards. A year later, he landed with the Chicago Fire, proudly finishing off his career in the city where it started, and winning an MLS Cup to boot.
After taking over as technical director of the Fire in 2004, Klopas spent the last three seasons as coach, leading the Fire to a U.S. Open Cup final appearance in 2011 and a playoff berth in 2012.
Since Schällibaum only ever coached in Europe and Marsch’s experience was limited to North America. When Klopas was let go by the Fire in October, the 47-year-old’s experience in both continents made him an attractive option.
Impact sporting director Nick De Santis, with whom Klopas already shared a strong relationship before his arrival, dubbed his new hire as the “best of both worlds.”
Klopas says his soccer philosophy matches that of the Impact: he shares in the club’s preference for pursuing technical players and building a possession oriented team.
He also has very high expectations. That making the playoffs is an objective for the Impact this year goes without saying.
“Of course, [I want to make the playoffs],” Klopas said. [Not only that], I want to win a championship. And there are a lot of other goals that we’ll discuss with the team, but we have to think big, I’m not going to say I’m happy with just making the playoffs.”
Klopas has been given three years to lead the Impact, a period of time that only two coaches in the club’s 21-year-history have managed to endure. But after the first week of training camp, Klopas feels very comfortable about his decision; he sees himself as just the right fit for the organization.
But if the past is any indication, it’s far too early to say if that is indeed the case.
Nick Sabetti is a Montreal-based writer. Follow him on Twitter.