The US Open Cup tournament is shaping up to be the Fire's best and only chance at hardware once again this season. Ahead of a fourth round match against Indy Eleven, who claimed the top spot in NASL's spring season with a 4-0-6 record, Chicago is facing what many fans will consider a 'must-win' game.
The Fire haven't played a competitive match since May 28's draw with the Portland Timbers in what was probably the team's best overall performance of the season so far.
Veljko Paunovic talked about the upcoming match along with Saturday's contest against the Colorado Rapids during his weekly teleconference with media. Here are the highlights:
Paunovic on preparation for Indy Eleven
"We started our second week after the break and we believe, so far we are doing very good. The team is very energized, (and has a) very good competitive level in every session and we are very happy with the performance so far. For the game on Wednesday I can say that we respect our rival. They're doing very good and their performance in NASL is great. We know that we are going to have a tough game but also we give a lot of importance to this competition. We want to win. It's going to be a hard game for us but we expect that our fans will give us the support in that game, which we believe is going to reflect how much we give importance to this game. We want our fans to do so because we highly rate this competition and we want to win this Championship. This title for us is very important to the club in the past and it's history, the club did very well. We want to recover that."
On line-up choices for the next two games
"This kind of competition gives us the opportunity to manage and have more players involved in competition. The level is very good, which is also why we want to win every single game, so we can keep the competitiveness in the team and competitiveness for each spot. As I've said many times before, that's very important for us. We we are going to do for sure is we will play with the best possible team in order to win. There will be some changes, but we believe that all of those changes will be very competitive and helpful to win the game."
"For us, every single game is a Final. Every single game we want to win. We will use all our resources to do that. Of course we have to manage the long season and two different competitions that we are now getting in to. For sure there are going to be some changes but that doesn't mean that we are speculating that there is no importance for us or that we are giving away either competition. We want to be competitive on Wednesday and then we want to keep being competitive on Saturday. We will give some players some rest and there are some players who deserve it. They are fighting for that spot and they will have the opportunity to play. (This) will keep our competitiveness in our team even higher. That's our goal. We believe that we have very balanced team and we have a group of players where everyone is pushing hard and working hard to earn their spot. Getting into the second competition this year, for us is another opportunity to keep everyone live and keep that competitiveness very high."
On NASL v MLS upsets in USOC
"We are very aware of that. It's pretty much the same in every single league that I played. The Cup competition is always very, very tricky. We know how tricky it is in MLS. Last week we had a presentation from Logan (Pause), who has won this title two times. He gave a speech to our guys where he involved all the rest of the guys who played and won. Michael Harrington here in MLS, and Johan Kappelhof who won with Groningen and the Cup competition in Holland. There was very, very good feedback from the locker room, from the group, and Logan is the best guy to talk about this competition and explain how important it is for the history of our club, and also for our fans and for everyone. It was a great experience and I believe we are doing all we can in order to make our players understand how important this competition is for us and also how important it is to respect our rival. This is going to be a very, very tough game. A lot of players jumped in on that presentation and they also said the same things. We've played in this competition. We know how it is, especially when you have to confront somebody that's coming from a different league and different competition and how important it is for those teams to win every single game against MLS teams. I think we are all on the same page."
On last Thursday's intra-squad scrimmage
"It went as expected. We believe that we hit all our goals. Fitness goals and also technical and tactical. We wanted a real game experience. We had referees who did very well with yellow cards. Red cards didn't happen but we wanted that real game experience. We played with a red and black team. As much as you can in these kinds of games, it was a very good experience and preparation for what we in front now. We are very happy with the performance of the guys."
On Collin Fernandez's injury
"Collin is still in the same situation. He's still doing his recovery. He's wearing a brace. It will help him to recover better but it's not something unusual. It's just the prevention and the best possible treatment that he can have in order to recover as soon as possible. He will not be available for the next couple of games. We hope we can have him starting with next week full-go but we are still not ready to know that at his point."
On John Goossens and team injury update
"He's at the same point of recovery. For him, we will set weekly goals so we can go from week to week. Right now he's not going to be available this week for either of the games that we are going to play in Open Cup or in MLS against Colorado. The only one who should be able to be available for the next two games, because he had a small shoulder injury is Joao Meira but he should be full-go tomorrow with the rest of the guys. We will see if we can have him available for the game on Wednesday. For sure, he should be ready for the game against Colorado. Everyone else is healthy."
On facing Indy Eleven
"We know that they have a lot of experienced guys who played in MLS. We know that they have a lot players who played on our team. We know that tactically they play in 4-4-2, but also they switched to 4-3-3. In the last game they played with three in the back when they were chasing a fourth goal. That says that they are a winning team, and a competitive team. They have that winning mentality, which is important to be successful. For us, it's going to be a very, very hard game. We also expect them to have that extra motivation playing in this wonderful competition and playing against a team in MLS. They can prove themselves when they have an opportunity to play against a very competitive team, as we are and all the MLS teams are. It will be very tough. They are also very good on set pieces. In the last game they scored all their goals from crosses from the flanks. That's very important for us to shut down."
On the Colorado Rapids
They are very competitive. They are in a great spot right now. They started very well in the first half of the season. Playing at home they are very confident. They keep the possession very well. They are very adaptable. They switch from where they have to sit back for the moment to taking control of the game with possession and with a very swift attack they can be very dangerous. They're a very well balanced team. They're a winning team.
On whether or not the Rapids quick turnaround can be used as a model for the Fire
They may be a role model for someone but everyone has different circumstances. It depends. It's very individual and very subjective from case to case and from team to team. Everyone has their own models and everyone has to find their own model.
"There is no update on Gilberto. I have nothing to say. I think Nelson already addressed everything very well. I will (say) the situation is the same. We will see in the next weeks how everything goes.
"There is no change in his status. He is not going to be available for that game (USOC or Colorado).
- Michael de Leeuw has arrived in Chicago and will be introduced during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. He is not eligible to play in USOC or the regular season games until the summer transfer window opens on July 4.
- Recently signed 37 year old Mexican midfielder Gerardo Torrado will also not be available for Indy Eleven.