Veljko Paunovic

On a conference call with local media members this afternoon, Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic reaffirmed his commitment to instilling a competitive mindset in his team ahead of their Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup clash with Eastern Conference rival Columbus Crew on Tuesday night (7:30 p.m., Toyota Park | TICKETS | PUB TO PITCH).

“I think that there was a good reaction after my public comments regarding our mentality,” Paunovic said.

Following the Fire’s 2-1 road defeat in Colorado on June 18th, Paunovic was quite transparent in his desire to bring a renewed focus on winning out of his team. After going down 4-1 in Philadelphia last Wednesday night, he saw a glimpse of that type of competitive mentality he'd preached prior to the match.

“There was a good reaction in the game against Philly,” he said. “Even though we started with the lead against them, we lost it. We were in a situation where we had to react again, and I think the reaction and the mentality of playing 90 minutes and trying hard until the end was actually something that we can say that we improved on in that game. Still, there is a long way to go.”

Some of those growing pains were on display against the Union, when the Fire surrendered four goals after initially scoring the game’s opening goal and gaining the lead in just the second minute of the match.

“I think even we were surprised that we scored so quickly in a way that we predicted in how we prepared the game,” Paunovic said. “After that, we were maybe a little surprised that we opened our midfield -- our center of our field in front of our defense -- and that’s how all the goals came, from that spot. That wasn’t a good reaction after we scored. (It’s) another part of the game that we have to learn to manage.”

Match Highlights | Union 4:3 Fire

A key component of Paunovic’s vision coming to full fruition is his team’s ability to express his desired competitive mentality with more regularity.

“There are a lot of pieces that have to be consistent and we have to work on them and put them all together,” he said. “I believe that’s our challenge and that’s our goal. Once they fit, then we will have the team we all like and all want to have.”

Developing that consistency has been a major point of emphasis on a day-to-day basis in Bridgeview. According to Paunovic, it comes down to factoring it into every drill he implements in his training sessions.

“Every session has to be competitive, where we push our guys to the levels where they have to either break or react in a positive way and win,” he said. “Whether it’s a small-sided game, whether it’s 5-v-2, whether it’s a set piece game that we’re doing – whatever it is – any task that we are doing in practice, it’s a great opportunity for us to work on our mentality where we increase the level of competitiveness.”

He’ll get his next opportunity to gauge his team’s progress on Tuesday night, as the Fire face a win-or-go-home challenge at home against Columbus in the U.S. Open Cup’s Round of 16. Coverage begins via live stream at at 7:30 p.m.