Despite falling short of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs, there are plenty of reasons to be motivated for the Chicago Fire in their season finale this weekend according to head coach Veljko Paunovic.
“For us, we have to understand this game as our final, which it is,” he said. “It’s a final. It’s an opportunity to get a little bit better...In the long term, I think forging that mentality, the soccer will give us the reward.”
While it will represent the end of his first season in Chicago, Paunovic sees Sunday afternoon’s matchup with Toronto FC at BMO Field (3 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago) as another opportunity for his side to take a step toward reaching the ultimate goals he has for the club.
“You have to give a lot before you become successful,” Paunovic said. “You have to forge those values in our team, in ourselves. We have to be professional until the end, but more than that we have to be the best we can be at every opportunity that is granted to us. This game for me is more than anything (about) pride, the opportunity of being the best we can be and the opportunity to put in place something that will give us (in the) long term the reward that we are looking for, which is being successful in the league.”
Paunovic echoed the same sentiments that he has championed since taking the helm last offseason. He has remained firm in his belief that the incremental mentality building he has emphasized all year will ultimately be his team’s foundation for success. Sunday’s season finale is a part of that foundation.
“It’s very important in every game to be the best you can be,” he said. “I know I repeat myself, but it’s all about that. You have one more game left. Everything that is behind, we cannot change. We can just act in the present moment. I think winning the last game is important. It’s going to be another opportunity for us to have two wins in a row, which we didn’t have the whole year. All of these things, to me, are very important. It doesn’t depend only on us, but winning this game we can escape from the bottom. And that’s very important for everyone.”
Toronto FC represents a familiar hurdle for Paunovic’s men. Head coach Greg Vanney’s men took a full three points from a trip to Toyota Park just over a month ago, and will be looking to improve their seeding with a repeat performance at BMO Field on Sunday.
"We’ve played against them two times, we know what we can expect from them," Paunovic said. "We know how euphoric they’re going to be -- the people, the stands, the crowd -- but we just have to win in that game. That’s what we want to do. We want to prepare for the game the best we can do and go there with nothing to lose, just keep our pride and be the best we can be.”
Additional notes from Paunovic’s media conference call:
On team injuries:
“In today’s session we had everyone available. We had a little setback on (midfielder) Razvan (Cocis). We’ll see if he’s going to be OK tomorrow. He got knocked in one of the drills we were doing. We’ll see how he feels for tomorrow. Everyone else so far is good.”
On David Arshakyan’s progress:
“We had a plan for him, to prepare him to go through this part of the season, the end of the season. Our goal for him was to prepare him for the next season of course, but of course anywhere and anytime we could make him play and get some minutes in the league would be very important. I think we had to accelerate a little bit because of the circumstances we had -- injuries and other things on the performance side -- we had to accelerate that process on him. He’s adjusting well. I think for sure the preseason and everything that is ahead will be helpful for him. But also we have this one more game left which may be another opportunity for him to adjust to the league, to get experience, and to perform well."
On his team’s approach to this week:
“I’m really proud of all our guys. There hasn’t been any session that they didn’t understand and work hard and understood the motivation why with all these things said to you guys I pretty much say the same with even more emphasis on the important things on the team and values that saying that in every session, every week we have our goals and our motivation high. Everyone was so far working hard. We never had any issues with that. That’s why I give all the credit to the guys. They are very good professionals, very good human people, and most important of everything they’re willing to put everything for our club and their profession to be the best they can be. From the standpoint of the results, it was difficult for us. At least what we said that we need for our team, it has always been present – always in every session – and that’s motivation and commitment to be the best we can be."