There's no denying that Saturday's outcome at RFK Stadium was a disappointment.
But, just like after two promising performances versus Montreal and the LA Galaxy, Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic is asking his team to remain steady in their preparation for the task at hand.
“Obviously the loss against DC was a hard loss for us, but we are focusing on our next game,” he said. “We’re of course learning from the mistakes we made in the past, especially in that game. We know that we’ll have DC again very soon playing here (Sept. 16), so we want to take good notes on that game and prepare to face them here and pay back.”
Despite the scoreline, Paunovic praised the weekend efforts of his team. The Fire went down to 10 men after midfielder Khaly Thiam was shown a red card in the 34th minute. Paunovic focused his compliments on the mentality behind the team’s effort during the remainder of the match.
“I think that the guys – the 10 guys and then the guys who came in to help the team in the second half – I think we did a great effort,” he said. “For us, a draw wasn’t enough. We wanted to win points on the road again.”
Thiam's actions after the whistle left his team with an uphill climb in an important moment, but Paunovic assured that lessons have been learned and that Thiam has made known his contrition within the locker room.
“We had a conversation,” he said. “While most of the conversation I would like to keep private, I can share with you that he’s aware that he made a mistake. We have to understand that he’s a young player who is still adjusting to our league. My most important thing that I could share with you from our conversation is that he learned that he has to control his emotions, he has to control his competitiveness, and of course he has to know that every action we make on-and-off the field represents our team.”
With the Fire now coming off of three matches played in a span of three matches in eight days, Paunovic emphasized the need for recovery with a full week leading up to Saturday’s home date with the Philadelphia Union.
“(The recovery) is not all from the last week, it’s the whole season,” he said. “We have almost two-thirds of the season behind us and it’s something that we have to know and manage. I think it’s a great opportunity for us this week to recover, but at the same time we have to keep our eyes on the game on Saturday and prepare for the game against Philly. The approach of competitiveness is always going to be in every session.”
Over the course of last week’s three matches, there’s no doubt that Paunovic had his team looking like the type he’d envisioned when he took his current role during the offseason. The Fire controlled the ball, finished their scoring opportunities, and had been showing genuine signs of progression. After a setback in D.C., regaining that momentum will be a key for the team's remaining stretch.
“One game makes such a big difference,” Paunovic said. “Whether you win or lose, you can just go back and see how the mood changed after we won the game in Montreal -- how positive it was and how close we just got to the playoffs. We were able to bring the enthusiasm of everyone. Then you can see the same thing or the opposite thing happening when you lose the game against DC. So we try to keep the mood and focus on the next game and just being aware that momentum is very important.”