Paunovic focused on strong finish ahead of Columbus replay

It’s no secret that Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic wasn’t satisfied with the results from his team’s recent stretch of three road matches in nine days. Among them, the Fire had their postseason hopes extinguished after a 1-0 defeat in Seattle on Sept. 28. However, amidst a 12-day respite between matches, the first-year head coach remains confident that his team can round out their 2016 schedule on a positive note.

“The good thing about our team is that we have a very competitive group” he said. “Everyone is very professional, and everyone wants to give their very best until the end of the season. In the next three games, we have the opportunity to play, to forge the mentality, the identity which is still to improve. At least this year, so far we were building the character that the team needs in order to be successful.”

Paunovic is preparing his side for a Thursday night replay against Columbus Crew SC (7:30 pm CT, CSN Chicago), whom they visited just nine days ago. Crew SC were able to claim all three points in front of their home crowd with a 3-0 result, and Paunovic is expecting an appropriate response come kickoff this week.

“What I expect is a reaction, a reaction from the last game,” he said. “I think the last game…losing against one of our rivals that is very, very important for our supporters, the performance wasn’t good, especially in the second half. The first half I would say was good, but the only thing was that we have to convert opportunities, the opportunities we had. I expect a reaction and I expect to see the team playing with pride.”

Following Thursday night’s match, the Fire will wrap up their 2016 home schedule on Sunday afternoon against New England (2:00 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago) and will finish their regular season with a trip to Toronto FC on Oct. 23 (3 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago). Paunovic emphasized keeping spirits high ahead of his team’s final stretch.

“I think the mood is good,” he said. “The guys are motivated. We keep the motivation high, even though it’s difficult for us to know that we are out of the playoffs. It’s a great opportunity for us to finish the season on a positive side, (and) not only in this game. We go one game at a time, but we have three games in front of us. It’s a great opportunity to finish the game on a positive side.”

Additional notes from Paunovic’s media conference call:

On Collin Fernandez and David Accam returning from international duty:
“Collin joined us this morning. He flew back last night. It was very late, so today we had a regen session for him. On David, we will know today. We don’t have any information from Ghana’s federation on when he is coming back regarding his flight, but we are working on that. Probably it’s going to be Wednesday (that) he’ll be back. Both of them when they’re here – Collin as I said is here – but we have to monitor them through the next couple of days so we can see if they can be available for the next match.”

On current team injuries:
“We have guys with some issues, but right now on the injury report (goalkeeper) Matt Lampson actually came back. Today was the first full-go session and he did well. Everyone else – some guys with issues – but we still believe we can have everyone ready for this game at this point.”