BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Veljko Paunovic is encouraging Brandon Vincent to become the Chicago Fire’s Marcelo or Roberto Carlos, and the 23-year-old left back is embracing the challenge head on.
Vincent has added a more attack-minded dimension to his game this year, and the Fire are reaping the rewards of his more adventurous and direct play. With three assists in his opening 13 games this year, including on Thursday’s night’s opener for MLS Golden Boot leader Nemanja Nikolic, Vincent is becoming a vital cog in the Men in Red’s impressive offensive machine.
"I believe that Brandon is doing an amazing job adjusting to the required levels of our league,” Paunovic said when asked of Vincent’s improvements this year after the 2-1 victory at home over FC Dallas. “He's the player that can keep the ball, he can keep the possession, he can support the possession and have dangerous crosses like today [and] assists in the final third.
"He is improving his game in the defensive part where he likes to engage more, step up. He follows the line very well. There are a lot of, lot of pieces that he's putting into his game.”
Following a solid debut season in MLS, in which he tallied three assists in 26 games and 2,191 minutes, Vincent has grown into his more offensive role. Still, Paunovic would like to see his young defender emulate the dynamic performances of Marcelo or Roberto Carlos, the current and former Real Madrid and Brazil left backs.
“We encourage him to be dangerous, to be our Marcelo, our Roberto Carlos,” Paunovic insisted. “We believe these are the kind of models that all our players should have in front of them -- who they can emulate in the best possible way and implement in their game, their tricks, implement their qualities also because it's important.”
Vincent's solid contributions to Chicago could eventually lead to him getting another look from the US national team, maybe as soon as July for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Fire captain and current US player Dax McCarty certainly believes Vincent, who just turned 23 on May 1, has done enough to earn consideration for a call-up.
“My answer is not based upon the fact that he’s standing right next to me, let me just preface that first,” McCarty said, to much laughter amongst the players and media in earshot. “But even if they don’t call young guys up, I would say he’s done enough this season certainly to earn a chance with the national team. He’s been in with the team before, I wasn’t in that camp, but from everything I heard he did very well and it’s clear to see that he’s only gotten better.”
“You can see he’s playing with more confidence, you can see that he’s one of our most dangerous guys in the attack with his service from the left side and, for me, part of the reason we’re so solid defensively is he’s winning his battles out there on the left flank. He’s playing at a really high level right now. He’s probably been, for my money, one of the top three best left backs in MLS."
As it stands right now, there seems to be little to no fear that the Stanford University alum would let any praise go to his head. He has been one of the fittest, most committed and most grounded members of the Fire since his rookie season, and regularly shows an immense appetite to improve his game, from both physical and tactical angles.
Part of how Vincent tries to hone his craft is by trying to mimic some of the best left backs of recent times, like Marcelo and Roberto Carlos.
“Those guys are the best in the world in their position, so how could you not look at them?” he acknowledged. “If I could take some of their qualities and implement them in my own game that would be great, but at the end of the day, again, it’s me and I’m just trying to focus on doing the best I can. They’re great role models for sure, though.”
Shane Murray is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.