The Fire aren't panicked just yet about the lack of scoring this season. They've managed to shore up defensively since a 4-3 opening loss to New York City FC but a more conservative approach and the absence of David Accam due to injury have changed the look of the squad since then. During his weekly conference call, Veljko Paunovic talked about the team's goal drought, the defensive resurgence, and the possibility of David Accam playing against Montreal this coming weekend.
Here's the recap:
On frustration due to lack of scoring
“Not at all. The thing is that we have to understand that this is going to be a long season and streaks like this may happen again. We believe firmly, (in) how we are doing in building our solid defense so far. We improved very well. You can see that we didn’t concede any goals in the three last games, which is very important for us. But still we know that we have to convert opportunities and even create more opportunities than we are doing so far, but it’s not frustrating. That’s the part of building the team. Part of the long season. We can also understand that every time the team has that solid defense, it helps during the season to build a successful year and reach all objectives and goals.”
On new players mentioned by Nelson Rodriguez helping the attack
“Those players will help out attack for sure. Also they will help our possession and build up, which is always something that we have to improve. We are happy how we are improving so far, but still (there’s) a long way to go. These players will help for sure."
On generating offense without Accam
“We will work on finishing and how we get to the final third and find a way to get (there) even sooner. I think we sometimes take too long to get to the final third and then we lose the ball because of the effort we do before that or we are not able or capable of finishing. Now we want to reverse or switch that process. We want to work to progress more quickly into the opponent’s half. Once we are there, reserve that energy and power to finish and be more concentrated on our shots and how we want to finish the play. That is something we are working on and we believe we have time this week to improve."
On Cocis playing underneath and Goossens off the bench
“He did very well. Everybody knows in our team that they are important and they will have opportunities. The thing is that we have to work and play as a team. This is the mentality that we built and we want to sustain. His (Goossens) role so far after the injury especially, we wanted to progressively build up his effort and build up his minutes in the game. He’s doing very good and we believe in the next game he will have more minutes for sure."
On Accam’s status
“I spoke to him and he’s very excited but David (is) very important for our team. We are very careful with his progress and his recovery. There are two parts that mark the pace of his recovery. Those are the nature and himself. He has to be comfortable. Once he feels comfortable to start training with the team and he doesn’t have any pain, he will be ready. Still, I don’t think that we are in that phase. Being so important, it’s tricky because we want him as soon as possible but we also don’t want to push him (and) make the injury worse. So far he’s improving well, but still we are not sure if he’s going to be ready for this game.”
On whether he sees himself as attacking or defensive coach
“I think I’m a coach who teaches all the phases of the game. Every team has some strengths and some weaknesses. I believe that in order to excel in your strengths, you have to work on your weakness. In the first game we saw what our weaknesses are and so far we are working to fix those. I think we are improving very well. We always love to win games, for that you have to score, for that you have to control the game. Sometimes that control starts with a good defensive system and from that building up to progress in offense.”
On Rodrigo Ramos’ game
“I think he did very well. It fantastic to see his performance, his mentality. He was so prepared and focused before the game, I saw him and said this kid is going to do great because he was so focused. He was so concentrated on having a good game. He came to the staff and asked questions about Villa. He wanted to see, again and again, clips that we prepared for the team. He was so focused. We are very happy with how he is doing and how he is improving. Now we want to reinforce him but still there is a long way to go for him. We want him to improve his offensive actions because he is capable of coming into the final third. Even though he did very good, I think he can still improve and give more good passes and good crosses to teammates that we can finish and that’s what it’s all about.”
On team improvement
“I think it’s a process. I’m very happy how this process is going on. I think that the guys are doing their best. They are improving a lot. I can’t demand more commitment but of course we have to improve the quality of everything we are doing in the game. We are all aware of that. Today we had a team video and we discussed it. I love when the guys are recognizing the situation where we could do better. From the other side, we recognize when they are doing great and we enforce that. That’s the part of the process we are doing good (in). We have all of our players engaged in this process. It’s a coaching and learning process for all of us. We are not going to increase the demand of the commitment. It always has to be one hundred percent, but we will increase our demand on how we want to perform.”
On the Montreal game
“I believe we are very close. We need to push a little bit more to get to the next level of the performance that we want to have. We are very close to doing that. Our next game, our goal is like always, to win, to improve in every phase of the game, and also it’s a very difficult game. Montreal is a very good team, (on) a very good start. Hopefully we’ll have better weather conditions for both teams. Our goal is clear. We want win this game because we see the opportunity, not only to get three points, but to build up our team and get to the next level of performance that we are looking for.”
“Having our defense solid, we want to keep that and improve. Now it’s not only a matter of possession, I think we are doing that pretty decent, still to improve but good enough that we can create chances and create opportunities. For sure where we have to improve is in converting those opportunities. We believe the game is a great opportunity to put all of those pieces together.”
On Brandon Vincent
“We believe that he had a very intense start of the season where he came straight from the college season, then the combine, then the draft and the National Team. We want to manage a little bit better, his involvement directly in the game because we believe he still needs some time to adjust. We will manage his minutes in the games and then there is another part in the necessities of the team. What the team needs at this point, I think that the guys who are on the field and have an opportunity are doing very good. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t when he played, but that’s what we are looking for. A very competitive locker room and very competitive environment where everybody is fighting for his spot and fighting to increase his performance.”
On Gehrig’s status
“He is actually doing very good. He’s fit and with the team. He was on the bench the last game. He’s fighting his way to the starting team. Like everyone else, very competitive and also a guy who gives his all in (training) sessions. The necessities of the team and technical and tactical decisions may decide on each of the players. We have to understand, and the guys they do that, we really always look at the best for the team. We will need all of our guys engaged. The season is long, so I’m sure if somebody takes their foot off the pedal that everyone will have their opportunity to play."
- Patrick Doody played 90 minutes in Saint Louis FC's 2-2 draw against Oklahoma City this past weekend. He tallied an assist from a free kick in the game.
- Drew Conner played the last 15 minutes of that match as well.
New player watch
The Fire have yet to announce the names of the new players Rodriguez mentioned, and Paunovic referred to, but the main offensive addition is a step closer to Chicago. FC Groningen's Managing Director Hans Nijland announced via the team's website that Micheal de Leeuw had turned down the team's two year contract extension to seek "a new adventure in a another club in a different environment."
The Fire are expected to add de Leeuw some time after Groningen's final league match on May 8. Groningen is still in contention for a Europa League qualifying spot by finishing in at least eighth place so their season isn't totally over yet. They currently sit tenth in Holland's Eredivisie, four points away from the final playoff spot with four games remaining.
The other player, MTK Budapest midfielder Khaly Thiam and his club are currently in second place in Hungary's OTP Bank Liga with a five point lead on Debrecen in third, with four games remaining. Thiam played 90 minutes in their 1-0 victory over Paksi SE today.