Veljko Paunovic's message to his team following Saturday's loss in Colorado was very clear: the team’s mentality has to change.
“As I said after the game, nobody is happy with losing,” he told reporters via teleconference Monday. “Nobody is happy with the situation. It’s time to wake up from this mentality that we are in for a long time. I can say that everyone is working hard here and we want the best, but it’s not enough.”
Paunovic’s team is coming off a late 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night in Commerce City. The game saw Fire homegrown forward Joey Calistri score his first goal as a professional to level the score 1-1 in the 81st minute, before ex-Fire player Marco Pappa grabbed all three points for the Rapids with a game-winner eight minutes later. Paunovic believes a more determined mental approach could have ended things differently.
“After we tied the game, we had the game to win,” he said. “I don’t think that we pushed enough to do that. Of course we have to learn from it, but I’m not happy about it. I addressed the locker room today about it.”
Paunovic was steely after the team’s Monday morning training session, and was forceful in emphasizing a need to break away from any current mindset not focused on winning.
“I’m very transparent and I’m going to tell you: we need winners,” he said. “This is not the Olympics. This is not about participating. We need real guys. We want guys only who will understand that and go and push forward with us.”
The Fire have come back from MLS’ Copa America break with a heavy match load straight out of the gate. Monday's training session was part of their preparation for a third competitive match in a seven-day span. Paunovic made it clear that it’s time to snap out of any residual attitude held-over from losses past.
“It’s time to wake up from that dream that we are right now in,” he said. “We have to do more. We have to work harder. I’m responsible for that. I’m going to fix this thing, and I’m going to work on that hard.”
The Fire’s quick turnaround from Saturday night’s defeat takes them on the road to visit the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night (6 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago Plus). As was the theme for today’s media session, Paunovic did not mince words when asked about his team’s preparation.
“We have in front of us a very difficult team to play at home, a team that is successful and leading our conference,” he said. “We have to understand that we are not going there to give up. Just to go there and participate. It’s the same thing. The main thing is to recover, but more than that we have to understand that we have to believe and push until the end to win the game.”