There's a lot riding on Tuesday's US Open Cup Semifinal (7:00, ESPN2). With a victory the Fire will host the Final in September against the winner of Wednesday's Los Angeles Galaxy/FC Dallas contest, along with snapping the embarrassing 38-game winless streak across all competitions. Beating their long-time rival on the road to advance to a Final would also give them a chance to win a trophy this season and catapult them into CONCACAF Champion's League play in 2017. That sort of success would grant them access to even more precious General Allocation Money for next season.
The Fire lost away to New England 1-0 on July 23, in a game that easily could have been won. Missed opportunities and a botched corner kick clearance were the difference in that one but Veljko Paunovic told media that the team can use that game in order to prepare for tomorrow's more important challenge.
Here's a rundown of today's pre-USOC teleconference:
Paunovic on the previous 1-0 loss in New England
"It is very helpful that we played the last game against New England (recently). I think in that game we had a very good start of the second half, a very good twenty minutes in the second half. I think we managed very well in the first half where we didn't concede opportunities. In creating opportunities for goals it was a tough first half for us. We didn't create in the first half a lot but that was part of our plan. The only thing that we learned from that game is that we have to be consistent until the end of the game and we don't concede new opportunities of goals, of course. We believe for us that was a tough loss but we learned from it and now we're are even more excited. This game for us is the game of the season so far. We are very excited. After the loss in Salt Lake I could see and feel that the team is really focused on the Open Cup Semifinal game against New England. That makes me feel good about the game tomorrow and also for me it's a great excitement. I can't wait for the game tomorrow."
On squad rotation v RSL and preparing for this game
"We always want to win so we had to find a way to manage the squad and the roster for the game against Real Salt Lake, and also for this game tomorrow. We always look for a competitive line-up and the line-up which will help us to win the game. That said, we have in our minds that tomorrow we will play with our best available players and the best who perform in our opinion, the best performance over the last week and the last game. We'll for sure be very competitive tomorrow. If we manage to make the game tough and don't concede goals, especially early in the first half and then we (make it) a hard game for our opponent I'm sure that we will create opportunities. In this case we have to be more efficient. Like earlier this season the chance for us when we were having good defensive performances, the challenge was to also improve our attack. When are performing well on defense, we have to also have to be efficient in the counter attack and these opportunities we create and convert them."
On finishing games on the road and USOC
"This is a game that every player wants to play in. This is the game that we put everything aside and just think about the game that we have tomorrow and how we can manage to win it. I know that it's not easy to do that, not having behind us a great performance (on the road) during the league (play). I think having a competition like Open Cup has a special feeling. It has a special identity. For is it's very important, traditionally very important. You can feel that is reflected in every single player in our squad. That is very positive. Our team is capable of switching from the league performance to Open Cup, where so far we are doing well. That makes me feel better about the possibilities for tomorrow. I can see in the team, the guys are very motivated, excited. I can feel that. You can always see what your team looks like on and off the field and at this point I can tell you off the field that they are prepared."
On the 5 international roster limit for USOC games
"We will have a practice today in the afternoon where we will finally put all the pieces together in order to prepare for tomorrow. We are just focused on that. Prepare in our fashion for today in the afternoon. We'll perform PK's just in case we get to that point. Just total, total full preparation. Full focus. Full-go and full power in order to achieve our goal, which is to play in the Final and win it. We're totally one-hundred percent focused on tomorrow."
On the remainder of the season and tomorrow
"I see tomorrow's game as a great opportunity for us. Not only to advance in the Final and have a possibility to win it. With that, I believe in some way it will save our season so far. I also see it as a great (motivator) for boosting our mood and our performance in the league and MLS competition. We're far from the playoffs but I believe it can boost our mood and our performance if we win tomorrow. Their are double-goals and double-challenges for us and of course, double-motivation in the game against New England."
On David Arshakyan's arrival
"The immigration authority is working on his visa. We are still in the process. He is right now in the same plan that Michael de Leeuw had before he came here. He is in the same point in the process that he had to go through. He's preparing to come here fitness-wise. We are working on his visa. We believe that the week of Montreal (August 20 game) he will be here, but that's still something that we are working on."