The Fire's best chance at hardware this season still lies in a chance to win a fifth US Open Cup title. A familiar foe visits Toyota Park on Tuesday and Columbus Crew SC looks to be vulnerable while sitting just ahead of Chicago in the regular season table. Veljko Paunovic talked about preparation for the Crew and a few other issues during his weekly conference call with media.
Here are the highlights:
"This competition is very important. We will go with our best possible team to start with the guys we believe can win the game. We want to stop them from progressing out of the back where they have quality players. They have a very defined style and they perform very well. Our goal will be to stop them progressing from their to our end where they are very dangerous. We obviously, have to wait to see who is going to play but we know that they're style is consistent and they don't change even when the line-up changes. It's going to be one of our main challenges to stop them and take possession from them."
On Friday's San Jose game
"I'm focused always on the next game. I would rather talk about it in a conference call before that game. We have to see after tomorrow's game, the availability of our players. Then we'll prepare for them to play. We'll have to have possession and be smart. I think they have very narrow style of play."
On keeping a positive mentality
"I think there was a good reaction after my public comments regarding our mentality. There was a good reaction in the game against Philly. Even when we started with a lead against them, we lost it but we were in a situation where we had to react again. I think the reaction and the mentality of playing ninety minutes and trying hard until the end was something that we can say we improved in that game, but still there is a long way to go. There were also positive improvements in our possession side and on the side of offensive tactics where we scored two goals (to get back in the game). These are some of the points of information that we value and we believe that was an improvement in the game. There are a lot of pieces that we have to be consistent (in) and we have to work on them and put them all together. That's our challenge and that's our goal. Once they fit, we will have the team we all like and we all want to have. Every session, we have to be competitive. Either in a small sided game, 5v2, set pieces game, whatever it is. Any task that we are doing in practice is a great opportunity for us to work on our mentality where we increase the level of competitiveness. The best place to see it at the moment is in the game but practice and training is the other position where you can evaluate it."
On the defensive issues against Philadelphia
"I think we weren't capable of managing the game. Even we were surprised that we scored so quickly in a way that we predicted and how we prepared the game. After that we were a little bit, maybe surprised and then we opened our midfield and the center of the field in front of our defense and that's how all the goals came, from that part. That wasn't a good reaction after the goal we scored. It's another part of the game that we have to manage. All that happened is experience for our guys and we will improve in the next games, but still we have to manage the game better. We also have to understand that when our plan is developing the way that we want, then we have to stick our plan. We still have to be smart in reading the game. During the game different things happen, so you have to be ready in order to read and react in a proper way in order to adapt for the performance and to win the game."
On Polster's status
"Matt is not going to be ready for tomorrow's game but he is improving very well. He is in the last phase of his recovery. We believe that he may be ready to play on Friday. We will evaluate it on a daily basis."
On de Leeuw so far
"Michael has been good. Fitness-wise he's improving well. He's almost at the level of the other guys. Every time we have him participating in games that we are doing in preparation for the game with the rest of the guys, you can see that he is very, very skillful in the box. He's hungry for scoring goals. That mentality is something that we need. I think he's a very good performer in that as a striker he can convert all those opportunities that our team is creating. Still there are a couple of weeks to work with him to prepare fitness-wise but we are truly hopeful that is he going to help us improve our offensive side."
On a training ground finishing battle between Paunovic and de Leeuw
"I tried to make him compete. He was the last guy in the field because he is doing extra work outs. I want him to compete every time. Sometimes you have to compete against yourself, but if there is somebody who can push you there (it's better) so I competed with him and he beat me. I'm very happy about it."
On preparing for penalty shoot-outs
"Our goal is not to win the game on penalties but that may happen, so we have to be ready. We also practiced on the main field. We split two groups and they were competing between them on both goals and then they switched sides. You never know where you're going to take penalties. You've got to be prepared for that. I'm going to emphasize that we don't want to win the game on penalties. We are not preparing a long game, not even extra time. We want to win the game in ninety minutes. Today, we had our last adjustments for the game and I think it went very well."