Joey Calistri

Veljko Paunovic has now seen his side play four organized matches since the start of preseason, including a pair of wins against MLS opposition in which the Men In Red scored a combined seven goals.


But Paunovic is hardly ready to start filling out his opening day team sheet. Quite the opposite, the first-year Chicago Fire head coach asserted Monday that he is continually evaluating all possibilities for his lineup.


“So far, everyone has to earn his spot at this point of the preseason,” Paunovic said when probed on the starting status of rookie defender Brandon Vincent. “Our expectations are that all of our players will be available, healthy, prepared, motivated, so when the team needs them they will be ready to play and give their best for the team.”


On Sunday against Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Paunovic devised a starting 4-2-3-1 that notably included club debutants Johan Kappelhof and Joao Meira as the centerback pairing; the tandem of Matt Polster and Razvan Cocis ably protecting the back four; a pair of trialists in the midfield in John Goossens and Arturo Alvarez (Paunovic indicated their futures with the club could be addressed this week); and Homegrown Joey Calistri on the left flank after deploying at right back in three prior friendlies.


The starting XI remained intact for 70 minutes and played the Whitecaps to a 2-2 draw before substitutes Collin Fernandez and Kennedy Igboananike (among others) came on to factor in a decisive 81st-minute spot kick for the Fire.


WATCH: Razvan Cocis Postmatch Interview

As he has throughout preseason camp, Paunovic on Monday continued to preach consistency in preparation and clarity of mission as keys to the upcoming MLS campaign.


“We have to prepare well, we have to win and play to win all the games that we have in front of us,” he said. “That’s our goal, prepare well right now and go from one game to another game to another game, always giving our best. If we win, obviously we will reach playoffs, and this always will be our goal. It depends how well we prepare and how well we handle the long season that we have in front of us.”