The Fire are following Saturday’s 3-0 win over the University of South Florida with a game against the Philadelphia Union on Thursday afternoon. Head coach Veljko Paunovic told reporters during his weekly conference call this morning that he is very happy with the first phase of training camp so far. “We’re starting the third week of preseason, the past week was for working on our physical and athletic condition improvement. We finished with a game against University of South Florida, which helped us to see where we are in all the aspects that we were working (on). Physical, mental, technical, and tactical. We’re very happy so far on how the team is performing and improving, but obviously we know we still have to improve more,” he said.
Paunovic said that the team will continue working with the ball this week, and it helps that the team has been injury free although there have been players missing due to national team duty.
“We have a very good group so far. Our veterans are helping a lot to our youngsters to integrate and catch the level that they have. We believe that players like Mauricio (Pineda), Collin (Fernandez), Kingsley (Bryce), (Patrick) Doody, and others are the future of our team,” said Paunovic.
“We also have players who are coming back from the national team camp, which is very helpful to completing our group. That will help us to even more to work on our team spirit, building our style, and our group.”
Sean Johnson, Matt Polster, and Brandon Vincent have joined the team in Florida and will begin training with teammates this week. Missing three important players, who should be starters hasn’t been easy but Paunovic was prepared for it. “No frustrations at all,” he said. “This is part of the job. You have to work. We started with a plan. We knew when we were going to have them back. We were working with US soccer on what they were doing. We were communicating so we knew they were prepared well for this part of preseason.”
Paunovic was also happy to see Vincent get a run with the USMNT on Friday night against Canada. “We were very happy to see him play the other day. Surprisingly, but at the same time he deserved it. I’m sure that he did great at the camp. That’s how you earn the confidence of the coach. That’s what all our youngsters have to understand and do it. We are expecting from him the same thing,” he said. “He provides us with a good prospect, not only for us but for the Olympic team, National Team, and even for the senior team.”
Most of the Fire’s youngsters got a chance to see some playing time against USF and Paunovic said he has been encouraged by the progress made by those professionally inexperienced players during the first two weeks of training. “They are really have been challenged for the first time to work with senior players on the professional level and I’m very, very surprised with the level and the commitment and they are proving themselves that they can be reliable in the future for our team,” he said.
One of those players, defender Mauricio Pineda is a Homegrown prospect who has committed to the University of North Carolina next fall. Paunovic wouldn’t say whether or not he could stay with the first team past training camp given that he’s signed a letter with UNC, but he has impressed so far. “It’s early to talk about that at this point. At this point, I would not say surprised, maybe that’s not the right word, we are very happy that what we expected he could do on the next level is proving that. This is what gives us security that we will have guys there. After two weeks, we’re not ready to give the credit which is necessary in order to make the decision for the coming season but we’re very happy with how they are improving.”
Joey Calistri was drafted as an attacker but got a chance to start at right back this past weekend. He worked there last week and played well enough to earn a look at another spot on the roster. “The technical staff had a discussion about where he can fit the best for our squad. We believe that we find him playing at that position in the sessions during the preseason. He proved that he can play there. That’s why we played him there. We want to find the best position for him and we have to see that in the game. We were very happy with his performance,” said Paunovic of the switch.
Ramos at RB
The Fire acquired right back Rodrigo Ramos on loan last week and he’ll have a chance to land a starting spot once he arrives in camp. He only saw the field twice as a substitute in the U20 World Cup last summer but it was enough to catch Paunovic’s attention.
“He played not too much at the World Cup, but the fact that he was a part of that great team was very important for us when he was offered on loan to us,” said Paunovic. The Fire reviewed his nine appearances with Coritiba during the past season and saw enough of a prospect to bring him in. Paunovic said that he’ll have an opportunity to show that he can improve and play at the next level regularly. The Fire have option to keep him after the one year loan spell.
“What I saw, and what the technical staff always saw is that he’s a fast player. He’s good on the ball. He has that Brazilian attacking mentality and attitude. That’s what we are looking for. He’s good defensively, but at the same time he attacks very well after the recovery.”
Paunovic said that he expects a healthy completion in goal and didn’t readily anoint Johnson as an automatic starter. Patrick McLain will get a chance to show the technical staff that he deserves a look along with pushing the incumbent. “He is working very good so far,” said Paunovic of the former USL ‘keeper. “When Sean is back, it is very important for me to see both of them together (and) how they work. The relation they have is going to be very important for us to see who can push one or another in the best possible way to earn the spot for the starting goalkeeper.”
Line up choices
The starters this past Saturday were determined by the technical staff’s attempt to balance a competitive side with the desire to see some players at certain spots, as was the case with Calistri. Paunovic also wanted to get a look at trialists such as Arturo Alvarez and unsigned draft picks such as Vincent Keller, in significant competitive minutes.
He also added that there is currently no timeline for announcing additional player acquisitions. “We are working on the visa for Kappelhof. Meira already has his visa, so we are expecting him maybe tomorrow, or the day after. Like always, we always speak when things are done,” he said.
Thursday’s game against the Union will give more insight on where the team is at this point in preseason.
Midfielder John Goosens, a Dutch youth international, and Callum Irving, a goalkeeper from the University of Kentucky who received a call for the Canadian national team camp have joined the Fire as trialists this week.
GK: Sean Johnson, Callum Irving*, Matt Lampson*, Patrick McLain
DEF: Jonathan Campbell, Patrick Doody, Eric Gehrig, Michael Harrington, Johan Kappelhof, Vincent Keller^, Joao Meira, Mauricio Pineda^^, Rodrigo Ramos, Brandon Vincent
MID: David Accam, Arturo Alvarez*, Kingsley Bryce, Joey Calistri, Razvan Cocis, Drew Conner, Collin Fernandez, John Goosens*, Nick LaBrocca, Parker Maher**, Vincent Mitchell^, Alex Morrell^, Matt Polster, Harry Shipp, Michael Stephens
FWD: Gilberto, Kennedy Igboananike
^Unsigned draft pick
**Saint Louis FC player