New Fire coach Paunovic is unknown, but has believers

Yesterday the Chicago Fire ended their coaching search by announcing the hiring of new coach Veljko Paunovic.

Paunovic, 38, is part of a growing trend of young coaches joining MLS. This is probably a good thing given the last three MLS Coach of the Year winners were young. Caleb Porter in 2013 and Ben Olsen in 2014 were in their 30s when they won. Freshly minted 2015 winner Jesse Marsch just turned 42 earlier this month and is in his first year as head coach.

Paunovic has ties to MLS via a one-year playing stint with the Philadelphia Union in 2011. He was recently patrolling the sidelines with the 2015 U-20 World Cup winners Serbia, which knocked out the Americans in penalties in the quarterfinals.

The hire, while a surprise that no one saw coming, has some supporters.

Sciaretta’s point is an important one. Foreign coaches have struggled, but at least Paunovic has some experience with the league as a player. About a year ago, Will Parchman over at Top Drawer Soccer wrote a piece about MLS coaches with experience in the league and those without. It stuck with me and now it is useful in this context.

What we can say for certain is that coaches who’ve had previous MLS experience have a better chance of sticking around by nearly a full year. The average length of tenure for the 40 coaches in league history who’ve had previous assistant or playing experience is 3.2 years. The average for coaches who’ve entered the league cold is 2.6 years, but that drops to 2.2 without the combined MLS experience of Sigi Schmid and Bruce Arena, who are notable outliers here.

Paunovic can slide into the better of the two categories as Parchman’s piece showed. That’s a positive. Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez seems to be aware of this trend by pushing the narrative that his year in MLS will greatly help him. Here’s a Rodriguez quote from a video interview on the Fire’s website:

“I think that intimate knowledge of how a player lives his life in the U.S. and in Major League Soccer can only help him,” Rodriguez said. “He’ll have great empathy for the unique challenges that are a part of our league, whether those be turf or climate or four time zones or even the sheer size of travel conducted.”

It’s also worth noting that Paunovic has spent four years coaching youth teams for Serbia, culminating in the U-20 World Cup win. Given his success in that tournament, the Fire nabbed what was probably a pretty big coaching prospect around the world.

As a former striker/attacking mid, Paunovic may also be more likely to play a more attacking style, which just for the sake of something different would be nice to see after the overly pragmatic tenures of Frank Klopas and Frank Yallop.

On the other hand, foreign coaches don’t have an especially great track record in the league.


This point is worth noting. Pareja, who is currently leading FC Dallas in the Western Conference finals, may share something in common with Paunovic. Perhaps Paunovic’s background in youth coaching means he will go more towards the Pareja path. This, of course, is speculation, but it would be weird for a successful youth coach to then not trust youth players on a senior team.

Paunovic’s style as a coach is something Fire fans will soon see. Here’s an idea of what his U-20 Serbian team looked like.


Finally, some notable links on Paunovic:

Chicago Fire press release

Nelson Rodriguez interview with Jason Davis

Ives Galarcep’s take

Guillermo at Fire Confidential has quotes from Rodriguez’s press conference

ESPN FC feature on Paunovic’s U-20 World Cup win

Now let the offseason begin.

Filed under: Fire

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