SAN JOSE -- The jersey said "Quaker" instead of "Quakes." But that was the same Frank Yallop roaming the Earthquakes practice field Tuesday.

Only now he coaches the Chicago Fire, which plays last-place San Jose on Wednesday night at Santa Clara's Buck Shaw Stadium in a game both teams desperately need to win to remain in the Major League Soccer playoff race.

Yallop will face his former team for the first time a year after a sudden departure that stunned team officials, players and fans.

He has traded the blue-and-black San Jose jersey for the red and Navy blue shirt with Chicago's sponsor Quaker Oats Company plastered across the chest.

"Weird," is how Yallop described it while keeping an eye on the Fire (3-4-11), eighth in the 10-team Eastern Conference.

"I stepped on" this field "a year ago. Now I am here with a new team."

It also will be strange for many of the Earthquakes players and coaches who forged strong bonds with their former boss.

Mark Watson was Yallop's chief assistant since 2010 before taking over last June when the coached walked away. Watson said the coaches talked about it recently.

"There are no issues," Watson said. "We're great friends now and great friends after the game."

Yallop's departure last year led to many questions and much speculation because the specific reasons for leaving have never been cited.

"Sometimes you just get to the point, 'Do I feel I need a change?' " Yallop said. "Yeah, I needed it. I made a decision I needed to step down."


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He wanted to clarify one point: "I wasn't fired, by the way. We talked about it and all agreed, and it was great."

Owner Lew Wolff told this newspaper last year that Yallop left on his own accord and could have stayed.

But Yallop, whose family is scheduled to complete the move from Los Gatos to Chicago next month, seemed to need a fresh start after 5½ years in San Jose.

What has been left unsaid is mounting frustration over the Earthquakes' direction. Without a big second half, San Jose would miss the playoff for the second consecutive season.

Yallop led the Quakes to MLS Cup victories in 2001 and 2003 before leaving to run the Canadian national team for two years. He was the architect of the Earthquakes' return to MLS in 2008. Four years later San Jose won the 2012 Supporters Shield for the best regular-season record. The former Canadian defender was MLS coach of the year two times while with the Quakes.

Yallop also coached the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2006-07, the two years the franchise was in limbo after MLS moved the team to Houston.

"It was sad the way Frank left after all he did for this club," forward Alan Gordon said Tuesday. "He deserved better even though he wouldn't say that. I'm happy to see him in a good situation because he deserves it."

Yallop helped revive Gordon's career in Los Angeles and San Jose. The coach also was instrumental in giving U.S. international player Chris Wondolowski his break when bringing him to San Jose in a trade with the Houston Dynamo.

"Frank has been responsible for a lot of the best memories of this club for an extended period of time," said defender Jason Hernandez, who is scheduled to start for the injured Clarence Goodson.

Yallop noted he is connected to only a handful of Quakes players, such as Jon Busch, Sam Cronin, Shea Salinas, Gordon and Wondolowski.

After pregame pleasantries, both teams plan to turn their attention to winning. With the season half over, San Jose and Chicago can't afford more lapses if they hope to advance to the playoffs.

"We're the same as Earthquakes," Yallop said. "We've played better than our record. There's no excuses, but it is about time to pick up points now."

The Quakes (4-8-5) are at the bottom of the nine-team Western Conference that not even a victory Wednesday will change.

Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him at twitter.com/elliottalmond.

WEDNESDAY'S GAME
Chicago (3-4-11)
at Earthquakes (4-8-5),
7:30 p.m. NBCSN