As the Fire start the final leg of the preseason in Portland, the minds of fans might be in Montreal.
That’s where fan favorite Harry Shipp is after being traded on Saturday.
However, the club has moved on and coach Veljko Paunovic updated the status of the team during a conference call with the media on Tuesday morning. Paunovic didn’t give the full nitty-gritty details of the trade, but did offer some insight as to why the Fire made the move.
“At a point we had the situation with Harry where we had to decide because there was a team very, very interested in him,” Paunovic said. “We can’t say at that point we could guarantee for Harry that he was going to have the role that everybody and he expected. We had to decide obviously and make the best possible decision. Harry will have a better opportunity to play soccer, which he obviously always wants. That’s basically the main situation.
“I’m going to repeat it thousands of times: he’s a fantastic kid. He handled it very well and it was very difficult for him and I can tell you for us, too. He’s moving forward and we’re going to root for him. He’s a great guy and we appreciate everything he did for Chicago... I think we made the best possible decision for all parties.”
Paunovic makes it sound like Shipp was not going to be a regular in the lineup. The next question then is why Paunovic and the Fire came to that conclusion.
“I think that the first reason, the technical reason, is why we decided to do that,” he said. “For the style of play and for what we are looking for in that position is something that we decided was very important.”
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The Fire have played with a 4-2-3-1 formation in the two preseason matches so far. Shipp played in the central attacking midfield role, in the center of the three, in both matches. Collin Fernandez also played in that position.
The 19-year-old has shown flashes of talent, but has only one MLS appearance, a six-minute substitute appearance. He is the most obvious candidate to receive playing time at that position unless a new player comes in. Paunovic stayed mum on possible new acquisitions, but did talk about the competition for a now open spot left vacant by Shipp.
“We have guys on the roster we are looking for and they have an opportunity to show up and prove themselves now that there is an open spot,” Paunovic said. “That’s where we are with the guys we have on the roster we are looking if they will take this opportunity and win this spot. I think I said that everybody has to earn their spot. For everybody in the position, everybody has to earn it.”
When asked about which players have stood out to Paunovic in camp so far, he took a broader view of the team.
“I want to see in our team guys who will take advantage of the situation now and earn the hearts of our fans and obviously our staff and our other players,” Paunovic said. “This is what we are looking for in this situation. We want to convert this situation into a positive, dynamic situation where the players will be eager to play in the way the fans love and obviously win for our team.”
Paunovic also commented on the status of trialist Arturo Alvarez. Paunovic said he has been happy with Alvarez and his will to accomplish everything the team asks of him. However, no decision has been made on whether to sign him to a contract.
Dutch defender Johan Kappelhof joined the team in Portland on Monday. Paunovic had words of praise for the Fire’s new addition.
“What I love in the interview that Nelson and I had with him before we decided to sign him, he said, ‘I love to defend. I love the challenge of playing 1v1. I’m really engaged in defending our goal,’” Paunovic said. “We saw the soccer player who wants to play, build out of the back and who is committed to possession of the ball and progression. He has a very good, quality pass, his decisions are good. He is a defender and that defensive mentality that he has, that defensive attitude is contagious and that’s what we are expecting from him. When we have to defend because that’s part of the game what we expect from him is to be one of the leaders in our defensive line and contain everyone in front of him.”
The Fire’s first game in Portland is against the Vancouver Whitecaps at 4:30 p.m. CT.