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.”