Veljko Paunovic: At some point the Fire will surprise everyone

Veljko Paunovic: At some point the Fire will surprise everyone

In his still young tenure with the Chicago Fire, Veljko Paunovic has shown to be an optimist who at times even resembles a motivational speaker in the way he talks.

The coach frequently speaks about instilling specific values in players like hard work, belief in what the team is doing and creating a winning mentality. On Monday, two days after the Fire’s sixth straight road loss, Paunovic showed his optimistic side.

“At some point we will surprise everyone with how well we played and how well we worked the game,” Paunovic said in a conference call. “We have to work for that moment and be consistent and wait for that to happen. But still, hard work, commitment, consistency and belief.”

Paunovic has shown minor levels of frustration with the team’s mentality, but has also never spoken negatively about the team in a general sense yet this season. At least in what he says, Paunovic remains positive and committed to what him and general manager Nelson Rodriguez are building despite sitting in last place in the league.

As for Saturday’s performance, in which the Fire conceded an early goal and were outshot 25-11, Paunovic said the team improved in the second half thanks to some adjustments and the introduction of Michael de Leeuw.

“We switched formations and in the game came Michael de Leeuw who I think did very well,” Paunovic said. “He gave us some good attacking options and a very good dynamic. There are still some adjustments for him, not only adjustments for the demands of the league, but also for the team that this is the first game he played with his teammates.”

De Leeuw managed one shot in 45 minutes of play in Toronto. Paunovic described de Leeuw as a dynamic attacker capable of switching positions in order to find space, but the Fire have a more specific role for him in the short-term.

“At this point we see him playing at the top, as a reference, as a target, but given that he’s not that kind of player,” Paunovic said. “We will look to take advantage of his dynamic and attacking movement in order to create superiority in any part of the field in attack.”

That positional flexibility could come in handy soon though. Wednesday’s game against Sporting Kansas City will be the Fire’s second game out of five in a 15-day span. Paunovic said there will be some squad rotation given the crowded schedule, which was also another reason why Matt Polster was left off the bench in Toronto.

“He was cleared last week,” Paunovic said of Polster. “We wanted to give him more time to prepare for the stretch that we have now in front and be of course available 100 percent. We will count on him for the next games that we have.”

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason


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


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.