In preparation for the Fire's most important game of the year on Wednesday night, Veljko Paunovic gave some regular players the night off against FC Dallas on Saturday. During his weekly conference call he addressed the odd decision to bench Sean Johnson after his best game of the year in order to give Matt Lampson a start ahead of an important match on Wednesday, preparation for Fort Lauderdale, and the surprise naming of Brandon Vincent to the MLS All-Star team.
Here are the highlights"
Paunovic on Brandon Vincent being added to the All-Star roster
"I think it's a fantastic achievement for him, but also for our team because I think everyone on the roster helped him to get such an important achievement in the first year of his professional career. Being a rookie, we are all happy about it. We would of course like, in the future to add more players to that (roster) but this year it's not going to happen. We also want to encourage Brandon to keep on working hard and well as he is doing so far. For our team, where we have a lot of young players it's an example that there are people looking at our team and also people who value the importance and quality of our players."
On not traveling Johnson, Campbell, and Accam to Dallas
"We shared the plan with all the players before this stretch of games started. Before even the game against Sporting Kansas City, everyone knows how much they're going to participate and what the plan (was). From the fitness standpoint, we have to manage the load and July is a very hard month for us. Sean knew our plan for him before the game against Sporting Kansas City, and we want Matt Lampson to play also in the Open Cup game on Wednesday. We believe, for him that it was very important to have a game before that and that's one of the reasons that we decided to do it this way. David had a contusion on his ankle, but also we were talking to him, because he was one of the players who had a lot of games up to that game. In New England, when he started after his injury, we wanted him to give him opportunity to rest and after having that small issue with his ankle we believe that he will have a good opportunity to do that."
On Calistri's status
"Friday before we traveled to Dallas, (he) had an ankle sprain and he's not a full go. He's still doing treatment and he's not going to be on the roster for the Open Cup. Hopefully, we wil get (him) for the Saturday game."
On Fort Lauderdale
"For us, this game is a must-win game. We all know how much we value this competition and it becomes a priority. We will go with all our forces in this game against Fort Lauderdale. They're a very good team that has proven they can win against MLS team. They (win) did so far in the Open Cup two times so full respect and full power against them. We are preparing for that game as one of our priorities for this season."
"They're good team, formed with a good foundation. They've played in a 4-4-2, a system that we know has been solid for them. I think they have a good amount of foreign players, which raises the level of competition in the team. They have players from Costa Rica and Honduras in center midfield and they work hard and have shown that in two games in the Open Cup against DC and Orlando."
On USOC preparation
"We are full motivated and very optimistic about this competition. It' become our priority. This is how we are working. All our eyes are on this game and we want to prepare to win this game and we look forward (to it), We know that we have New England three days after so we also know what we wan to achieve in that game. Having this stretch, the importance of recovering well and having a plan where all the guys are important and have to be engaged and so far I think we are doing a good job with that. Players are understanding, very well their roles, each of them. We go game by game. We know that we have a plan and we share the amount of the plan that we can. We believe it's helpful for us to share with everyone. The next game is the most important game and we will work hard to win against Fort Lauderdale and we move forward."
"This competition is traditionally very important for this club. We'll give the maximum for this competition. Taking into account where we stand in the league, this competition is priority but that's not to stay that we're giving up on the regular season."
On clinging to playoff hope in league play
"We never give up. We will play all of our games to win, and that's what we're doing. At home, we've improved a lot. Since the game against Montreal, we are unbeaten here and that's important. We are not happy at all with our performance on the road. It's a matter of time (before) things will start to work for us better on the road and we don't give up on playoffs this year. I believe in miracles. I've seen them happen in soccer many times to me and even against me. Right now I'm in a position where I can expect them. I want everyone to believe in that and during that time we have to work, stick together, we have to give our best. I think that now we have more players on the roster that (gives us) more opportunity to rotate guys in the middle or up in front and switch formations in order to win the game. I'm very optimistic. I think we are getting better and we are adding people to our roster and very important people like Michael de Leeuw who just joined us. We are very happy with how he's performed so far. In these three games, I think he did very well."