Friday night's 1-1 draw at Orlando was a sign of much-needed improvement for the Chicago Fire, but even as coach Veljko Paunovic said, the team still has a ways to go in a number of areas.
Paunovic spoke to the media for his weekly conference call on Monday afternoon and while he spoke highly of the result and performance in Orlando, he addressed some things the team still needs to improve on.
The Fire played down a man for an hour and earned a point on the road. Holding onto the draw gave Paunovic his first result as Fire coach.
“I was very excited after the game," Paunovic said. "I celebrated, to be honest, as a victory because it’s very important for us to get that confidence scoring points and again, especially in a game like that. I think the tie is a good result, but I had hoped that we could even win that game and that’s what I said to the players in the locker room at halftime."
On the downside, it was the second straight match the Fire were dominated in possession. After the Fire held the ball for just under 40 percent of the match against New York City FC, Orlando had 65 percent of the possession on Friday. Granted, the Lions had an extra man for most of that game, but Orlando had a stranglehold on possession in the first half hour of the match as well.
Paunovic has talked about high pressure and building out of the back as his tactical priorities, but is possession play something he is willing to sacrifice?
“For me, possession is a very important part of the game," Paunovic said. "Always when it’s possible we like to have the possession. In this game it was very difficult as you know being one man down, it’s never easy to take over the possession, but I would say that we have that mindset that it’s important for us and we have to work on that to improve. This is what we were doing today in the session and in the days to come.”
A big reason for the lack of possession is a low passing percentage from the Fire. In the opener, the Fire completed 66 percent of their passes. Against Orlando that number went up to 71 percent, but that's still not good enough. For comparison, NYCFC completed 78 percent of their passes and Orlando completed passes at an 87 percent rate.
A possible explanation could be the lack of cohesion within the team. The Fire had eight players make their club debuts in the season opener. Midfielder John Goossens debuted in Orlando after not having his visa in time to play against New York City. Playing down a man for so long against Orlando made it difficult to evaluate certain aspects of the team's performance, possession play being chief among them, but Saturday's home match against Columbus (4 p.m. CSN+) will mark another opportunity to see if the Fire have improved in this regard.
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Possession play isn't the only aspect he wants to see the Fire improve. Overall defense and offensive efficiency remain priorities for the Fire coach.
“I still think we have to improve defensively," Paunovic said. "We were better against Orlando, but we still have to improve. Also we have to improve in scoring our chances because we still created a lot of chances, which is great, but still now we have to score those goals."
As for who will play in place of the suspended Michael Harrington at right back, Paunovic named Rodrigo Ramos as a possibility, but also added the staff is still deciding. He mentioned Michael Stephens and Johan Kappelhof as players who can play right back, but wanted to see how they do in training.
On the injury front, Eric Gehrig is also expected to be out against Columbus. Gilberto, who sat out against Orlando, is back in training, but is doing some side work with the trainer instead of joining with the team for the full session.