As expected, it's been an eventful week for Veljko Paunovic.
The Chicago Fire head coach flew his side to Florida on Sunday for week two of preseason camp, was named the coach of the 2017 Target MLS All-Star Game on Tuesday, and has been prepping for the team’s first preseason friendly against Florida Gulf Coast University on Saturday.
(All the while, expanding his social media game.)
In a rare moment of downtime, Paunovic was able to deliver some updates on the Fire’s ongoing preparation for the club’s upcoming 20th season.
“It’s been very good,” he said. “We have very good weather, very good facilities which also helps. The guys are very energized, very motivated, and working hard. The first couple days (of preseason) weren’t easy for them. I appreciate – the whole staff appreciates – the effort and the adjustments they had to do in the demanding trainings we had in the first couple of days.”
Wednesday’s aforementioned intrasquad scrimmage gave Paunovic a look at where the level of competition currently stands among his 2017 squad. One area especially caught his eye.
“I think in all the positions in attack we have very, very good competition,” he said. “I think that’s very helpful. In our intrasquad game, we could see a lot that they were very responsive. There’s a lot of competition among the strikers. By that, I mean when one striker scored, the other was chasing the goal to score so he can prove himself. That’s very good. It also gives the team possibilities of different alternatives in attack.”
Among other things, Saturday’s friendly against FGCU could provide Paunovic a first look at how his team’s newest additions – SuperDraft selections Daniel Johnson and Stefan Cleveland and Homegrown signee Djordje Mihailovic – perform with the stakes raised slightly higher than Wednesday’s scrimmage. Adjustment to the pro game is his staff’s main focus for the trio.
“They’re adjusting very well to the professional level and professional coaching,” he said. “There is still a job to do about it. We’re aware of that and we’re trying to help them to give them the right tools so they can develop their talent for now and for the future. We also know that it will take some time for them. The professional level obviously has some completely different requirements, completely different approaches. It’s about winning. It’s about developing and preparing your body to compete.”
VIEW: 2017 Preseason Schedule
Saturday’s friendly against the 2016 Atlantic Sun Conference Champions Florida Gulf Coast kicks off at 6 p.m. CT and will stream live online. Drawing too many conclusions from the debut outing would be a mistake, every preseason match has meaning as the team’s March 4 opener at Columbus Crew SC inches closer.
“We hope to see a good fitness level,” Paunovic said. “We hope to see a competitive approach. We hope to see our guys playing the way we’ve been working on so far, our style of play, which is building out of the back, progressing into the final third, and obviously finishing from different points of the attack. We want to compete. That’s the habit that we have to develop. By that, we also have to win. I want to see our guys be competitive, focused, and playing the way we’ve been training so far.”