Veljko Paunovic

Paunovic bullish on approach ahead of three-match road trip beginning at NYCFC

Coming off of a three-match home stand that culminated in Friday night’s 2-2 draw with D.C. United, the Chicago Fire are shifting gears into a three-match road swing that begins on Friday at New York City FC.

While the road trip won’t come on the heels of one of the momentum-feeding results that the team has enjoyed of late, head coach Veljko Paunovic remains bullish on his team’s preparation for their next task at hand.

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“We believe that the guys are recovered from the disappointing draw in our last match against (D.C.),” he said. “We are looking ahead to our next game, next opponent New York City FC very cheerfully. It’s not that we are happy where we are, but we are getting ready for the game. As we’ve said, one game at a time and that’s how we proceed with this one too.”

The Fire will face trips to New York City, Seattle, and Columbus over the course of nine days beginning on Friday. While the head coach is optimistic about the travel spell, there’s no doubt he had some takeaways from his team’s recent results at home.

“In this league, it’s very difficult to earn points,” he said. “This year, we’ve always fought very hard for that. We know that in every game, we can win, we can tie, we can lose. We always give our best in order to win, but we also know that it’s not easy. I’m not surprised, but I am a little bit disappointed that we didn’t get more out of these three games after a good, enthusiastic month behind us and games that we played like the game against Montreal on the road and things like that.”

With the home stretch behind them, Paunovic spoke highly of his team’s next opponents and is aware of the challenge that playing at Yankee Stadium presents. Patrick Viera's men are the second-highest scoring team in the league with 51 goals as a unit, paced by the 17 from forward David Villa. With an Eastern Conference playoff seeding still a factor, they won't be taking the Fire lightly either.

“From the standpoint of quality, of course they’re a very good team. They’re in a very good spot in the league, so it’s going to be tough. They have very important, very good players. Experienced guys playing together a long time, a couple of seasons. The momentum they are having is actually very good. Against all these adversities, we have to work and prepare and then perform. I believe we will do that.”

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Chicago and New York City have met twice already this season. They first played to a 4-3 shootout in favor of the visitors in the Fire’s 2016 season opener at Toyota Park back in March, before a trip to New York City resulted in a 0-0 draw in April. Despite the familiarity, changes to Paunovic’s squad in the time since their last meeting ensure that this matchup will feel fresh.

“Every game is different, even if you play against the teams that you’ve already played a couple of times this year,” he said. “You’re watching almost every game they play, but every game is different from the standpoint of who may play, who may not, the form and the load of the league, the matches behind in the season. When you put it all together, it’s going to be the most important thing who recovers well for this game and who prepares better.”

One of those changes is represented in forward David Arshakyan, who received his first MLS start in Friday’s draw. The 6’4 Armenian international was called upon to play 70 minutes in the wake of injuries to forward Michael de Leeuw (ankle) and midfielder John Goossens (back), and could further factor into Paunovic’s plans for the immediate future.

“I think he did very good, very well,” Paunovic said. “He adjusted very well. He started the game and the first start was for him difficult, but the he adjusted very well and he ended up playing more comfortable on the ball and more dangerous. He had a couple of opportunities where he almost scored a goal, and what we expect from him is to keep working hard, keep adjusting, and improve in all the aspects of the game that we believe he can still do. From the standpoint of if he’s going to play, probably he’s going to be one of our guys who we trust and who we believe can give us opportunities in order to win.”

No matter how the lineup shakes out come kickoff on Friday, Paunovic is clear about how he’s taking things at this point in the season.

“One game at a time,” he said. “Right now, this is where we stand. I think we’ve recovered from the last game and we look ahead at our next goal. Our next objective is to win against New York City FC. (They’re) a very good team, a team that is fighting for the first spot in our conference, doing very good this season. But we know that everyone in this league so far is beatable and we will prepare to win the game.”

Additionally, Paunovic offered these updates on injured players:

On Michael de Leeuw:
"(He) is feeling better. He was able to train – apart from the group, of course – but have training on the field. He touched the ball. It looked like there is less pain. It’s not that painful, but he still needs to work on his recovery. We’ll see on a daily basis how it goes through the week."

On John Goossens:
"Goossens is still doing his treatment inside with the medical staff, and he’s for sure not going to be ready for this game. We’ll see his progress in the coming weeks."

On Alex Morrell:
Then we have Morrell, who was on loan with St. Louis, where he got an injury. He’s recovering well. He was able to train today with the group for the first part, and the part that was more intense he worked on the side with an athletic trainer. We believe after the procedure of coming back to the field, he will be ready probably this week and be full-go."