If there's one characteristic that is apparent about Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic, it's that he's a competitor.
Paunovic spoke of having the team's honor hurt after they lost the season opener at home to New York City FC and frequently talks about pushing for more and always going for the win.
It seems Saturday's 2-1 loss at Colorado, which came on an 89th minute goal after the Fire had tied the match less than 10 minutes earlier, sent Paunovic to a boiling point of sorts. In his weekly conference call with the media on Monday, Paunovic was fired up in his words about the team's recent performances.
"Nobody is happy with losing," Paunovic said. "Nobody is happy with the situation. It’s time to wake up from this mentality that we are in for a long time now. It’s time to understand that I can say that the guys are working hard here and we want the best, but it’s not enough. We have to understand that it’s not only important to participate. That’s for the Olympics. We have to understand that we are here to win games. It’s time to wake up from that dream that we are in right now. We have to do more, we have to work harder. As I said I’m responsible for that, I’m going to fix this thing and I’m going to work on that hard. That’s I would say our mentality because our physical level, we are there, we are working hard, but we need to improve our mentality. That’s the challenge that we all have here.”
With a league-worst 2-6-5 record, the Fire were minutes away from getting a draw at league-leading Colorado. However, Paunovic believed his team was settling for the draw instead of going for the win in the final minutes.
"After we tied the game, we had a game to win," Paunovic said. "I don’t think we pushed enough to do that. That’s something we of course have to learn from it, but I’m not happy about it and I addressed the locker room today about it. I’m very transparent and I’m going to tell you, we need winners. This is not Olympics. This is not about participating as I said before. We need real guys. We want guys only who will understand that and push forward where we are.”
Perhaps a more assertive Paunovic can get a bit more out of his players, but it's not going to get much easier in the short-term. Next up is a trip to the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union on Wednesday.
The Fire will still be without Matt Polster (concussion) and Collin Fernandez (ankle sprain). Arturo Alvarez suffered a knee contusion and a hyperextended knee in Colorado, according to Paunovic, and will also be out. Joey Calistri, who scored his first MLS goal on Saturday, had some swelling from an ankle injury as well and will not play in Philadelphia.
On the upside, Paunovic said John Goossens will return from his knee injury to be on the bench Wednesday. Fire Academy product Drew Conner was recalled from Saint Louis FC to give the team extra depth with all those absences.