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.

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

NBC Sports Chicago

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

Manchester City is coming off a season in which it dominated the English Premier League to the tune of a record 100-point season.

City is kicking off the preseason of its title defense in Chicago. City takes on Borussia Dortmund at Soldier Field on Friday night.

The last time the reigning Premier League champions were in Chicago was when rivals Manchester United came to Soldier to take on the Chicago Fire in 2011.

The Citizens won’t have the full arsenal of stacked stars for its U.S. tour, which also includes stops in New York and Miami as part of the International Champions Cup. Many of the team’s best players are getting a break after playing in the World Cup. Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne, one of the stars of the tournament, is one of six Man City players to reach the semifinals.

Paul Dickov, who played for City for nearly 10 years between 1996 and 2008, is on tour with the team and talked about City’s preparations.

“The reason the clubs want to come to the States and play in International Champions Cup is the facilities are fantastic, the training facilities, the hotels, the treatment they get and just give them the best preparation going into what’s going to be a hard season,” Dickov said. “Nobody has won the Premier League back-to-back titles for nearly 10 years now so it’s going to be tough. Coming here and being able to prepare the way they can in the United States is going to put them on a long way to regain the title again.”

City brought the Premier League trophy to Wrigley Field on Thursday for the Cubs-Cardinals game. Dickov got to throw out the first pitch. The Scotsman threw a strike, much to his relief.

“I was quite calm beforehand, but I must admit when I got out there and I had to walk out there both hands started getting a bit sweaty,” he said. “I managed to make it and I got a fantastic reception off the Chicago Cubs fans so thank you to everybody at Chicago Cubs for having me there. It was great. Something I’ll never forget.”

Dickov compared Cubs fans to City fans in the way both teams struggled for a long time before finding success.

“They stuck by us through thick and thin when things weren’t as great,” Dickov said of Man City fans. “I suppose it’s a little bit like the Chicago Cubs here in Chicago. The fans turn out, they get 30-40 thousand, great atmosphere, back their team.”

While promoting the game, the Premier League trophy made multiple stops in Chicago, including with the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on an off day.

City also took the trophy and new signing Riyad Mahrez, who just joined Man City from 2016 champions Leicester City, to Haas Park in Logan Square. Haas Park includes a soccer field donated by Manchester City and the American embassy of the United Arab Emirates in 2012.

“The outcome of it has been great,” Dickov said. “Thousands of children and families benefiting, not just from the soccer part of it, but the education program as well. To be down there the other day for the full day and seeing the joy in the kids face seeing soccer here and the other activities that are on is great because, yeah, football is fantastic, soccer is fantastic and when you’re out there and you play you want to win, but it’s important, especially from Manchester City’s point of view, the city and the community. The stuff that they do off the field is second to none and it’s giving something back.”

Chicago Fire permanently sign midfielder Aleksandar Katai


Chicago Fire permanently sign midfielder Aleksandar Katai

The Fire have secured the transfer of midfielder Aleksandar Katai from Deportivo Alavés of the Spanish La Liga, the team announced Wednesday afternoon.

This season’s breakout playmaker has been signed with Chicago through 2019, with a 2020 club option. Before the transfer, Katai was on loan from Alavés, which was set to expire after July.

The Serbian player has emerged as one of the most important pieces of the Fire’s offense this season. Since joining the club on Feb. 6, Katai has scored eight goals in 18 league matches, tying forward Nemanja Nikolić for the most on the team. Katai also has three assists in 2018.

The 27-year-old’s biggest game of the year came against New York City FC last month when he scored two goals to lead the Fire to 3-2 victory. His production this season in the MLS has been much more significant than it was in 23 matches with Alavés, where Katai only tallied three goals and four assists.

His transfer fee is unknown but, according to Sam Stejskal of, he will be a “Targeted Allocation Money player” for the rest of this season and will not be a Designated Player until 2019. Whatever the official price was, acquiring Katai for a lengthier amount of time seemed like a must.

Throughout this season, the Fire were rumored to be in talks with legendary Spanish striker Fernando Torres. On Tuesday, he signed with Sagan Tosu, a Japanese club. The Fire signed Katai the next day, showing that the team was possibly waiting for Torres to leave the market.

Chicago will face the Philadelphia Union Wednesday night at Toyota Park, where Katai will look to continue his impressive season.