Veljko Paunovic

Paunovic preaches maturity as road trip rolls on

There was no downplaying of last weekend’s result or pointing of fingers, just a sense that there are lessons a young team still needs to learn. Coming off of a 4-1 defeat at New York City FC over the weekend, Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic preached maturity ahead of his side’s meeting with the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday night (9:30 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago).

“We have to continue our performance,” he said. “We have the responsibility for ourselves, we have the responsibility for our profession, and we have the responsibility for our fans and supporters who are with us, our season ticket holders. I’ve mentioned enough reasons that we have to keep our motivation until the end very high. He who doesn’t is playing not only against our staff – the Chicago Fire – but also against himself.”

A major element of the head coach’s first season in charge has been to develop the mental side of his players’ respective games. After a result like the one suffered on Friday night, Paunovic made it clear that that area is still a work in progress.

“The maturity, it’s still something we have to do,” he said. “It’s our main task this year, I think. In this game we conceded too many innocent mistakes and opportunities to our opponent who was already very motivated because of what they were playing for. These kinds of things you can’t concede to a team who is hungry and fighting for their goal which is still very close.”

While Paunovic is vocal in his discontentment over the team’s recent run of results, he has been encouraged with the development of his attack. The mid-season additions of forwards Michael de Leeuw, Luis Solignac, and David Arshakyan as well as the continued development of the team around them have coincided with a noticeable uptick in chance creation over the season’s second half.

“What we are focusing on is on the positive side, which is our performance in the attack,” Paunovic said. “When I say performance, I think about the creation of opportunities and chances, clear opportunities for goal. We can be happy with that but we cannot be with (our) conversion. I think that we have to score more goals, especially because our opportunities are very close range.”

The Fire must now shift into a mid-week contest with the Seattle Sounders, who are currently in their own fight for a postseason invitation in the Western Conference. The Sounders sit in seventh place, just three points shy of Portland above the red line with two games in hand on their Cascadian rivals.

“They’re a team that is possession oriented where they like to keep the possession especially in the opponent’s half. They have quality players in the final third. Since the coming of (midfielder Nicolas) Lodeiro, I think the team has improved very well. They look more confident, and of course they’ve had much better results.”

The Sounders have been red hot over the last two months, having suffered just one loss in league play since late July. While Paunovic is aware of the challenge the Sounders present, he remains confident that the job can be done come Wednesday night.

“Playing at home, they have a very good support and they feel even more confident,” he said. “It’s not necessarily that they are not beatable. They also had earlier in the season their issues, and some weaknesses that we detected. We are going to try to take advantage of it.”

Additional notes from Paunovic’s media conference call:

On the return of Collin Fernandez and Patrick Doody from USL affiliate St. Louis FC:

“Collin and Patrick are back. They trained today with us. We didn’t speak with stuff in St. Louis. But we will this week for sure. The only thing that I would add is that we are watching all their game so we have the insight of how they perform in the games. Matt Pearson our head of scouting was a couple of times there watching their games and even practices. We’ll follow up with our players also. It’s important for us and for them to know that we are all on the same page.”

On the team’s travel plan for the remainder of the week:

“We go straight to Columbus after the game in Seattle and we will prepare for the game on the road. It’s going to be very important for us to recover well after that game. Our schedule is based on the recovery and travel so we can manage it as best as we can in order to be ready to play the game on Saturday in Columbus.”