Fire

Veljko Paunovic: 'It’s time to wake up from this mentality'

Veljko Paunovic: 'It’s time to wake up from this mentality'

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.

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

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USA TODAY

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

Coach Veljko Paunovic still went with a second-choice lineup to start the Fire's preseason match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Wednesday, but the second half featured the first preseason action for Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Schweinsteiger came on for the second half, along with Nemanja Nikolic, Johan Kappelhof and a few other Fire regulars. The German sat out the first four preseason games, but looked sharp in his 45 minutes.

One of the highlights was this smooth move between two defenders:

Schweinsteiger also had an impressive switch pass to set up a shot for second-round pick Diego Campos in the final minutes of the game. Campos drilled the shot on target, but was unable to beat the goalkeeper.

The team did not say Schweinsteiger was injured despite the repeated absences in matches. The Fire have dealt with injuries to Matt Polster, Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Grant Lillard this preseason. None of those four, along with Dax McCarty, played in the 0-0 draw.

The Fire next play Saturday at Orlando in a final match in Florida before returning to Chicago. The Fire also play Tulsa, the team's USL affiliate, at Toyota Park on March 3 before taking on Sporting Kansas City in the season opener on March 10.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

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USA TODAY

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.