Veljko Paunovic – Head Coach, Chicago Fire
“First of all, I want to express my condolences for the tragic events that happened in Pittsburgh and around the world. To all the people affected and their families, I also want to include the tragic event that happened in Leicester. We are all a big family and it's obviously very hard, very tough, for everyone. Such a loss.
I want to also thank the ownership for these three wonderful years I've spent at this wonderful club, working for wonderful people. I want to thank my staff, medical staff, all the people that were working with the players. I want to thank the players, especially the players, because we were together in the trenches every day since the first day I came here and, obviously, the rest of the coaches and trainers. As I said before, it's a huge moment finishing the season where we all don't know where our future will be. But I think the gratitude for the hard work and everything they did for the club, it’s something that cannot be ignored and I want to really give my big thanks to all of them.
Also I want to thank the fans. It was hard for them. Definitely, this year wasn't something that anyone expected. The only thing I can say is that we really appreciate the support. We appreciate all the people who came here, even today, to bid farewell to the season and players and everyone else. I think it was great to see them again.
I can also add that I am completely and fully responsible for the bad results this year, and I take that on me personally. I have to improve and get better and give everyone who are expecting from me results, give them those that they deserve, or want. I want to thank you guys (the media) also. I think you've been also very, like you have to be, sometimes supportive, sometimes critical and that's how it works. I think that you guys have to judge our work at the end. You did your job. But I think it's very important for me, it's a great honor to have you here tonight for the last game where you guys also came here to see the team and see what our last game would look like.
About the game I can say that I think we had a very good first half. I think we missed great opportunities which will help us to close down the second half and play in a little bit more cheerful way. Missing those opportunities we kind of, in some moments, lost the momentum. We lost the energy to push forward and win the game until the end. But I think in the last few minutes we also created more situations where we could have had a better outcome. I think the result is probably fair but I also want to close down this speech with congratulation to all our opponents. All the teams that played this year in the league and competed against us. I also want to congratulate D.C. United for playing the playoffs and all the teams that clinched playoffs and are going to play. I think they did a great season and I want to wish them luck. I wish them all the best and we all know in the end it's going to be only one team that's going to win it, so good luck.”
If the statement was a farewell:
“No, it was a farewell to the season. I think everyone deserves it and I prefer to say it now. But with regard to my future and the rest of the players who still have to resolve theirs, right now I am not prepared to talk about my future nor do I have an answer on that. We'll see what happens in the following weeks and we'll see if I can give you a better answer.”
On Patrick McLain’s distribution in the match:
“I don't think now is the time to judge anyone, especially in the last game of the season, on more technical situations. What I told the locker room is yes, we must always improve. There are always things we can correct and make better decisions, execute better but it will always get better. Yes we argue, we discuss among ourselves and we try to resolve it but what I saw from the team is that in the end, when there is a teammate that hasn't had the best day, in the end, his teammate tries to help him, support him and also ask him to correct his mistakes. This is normal and it happens everywhere. I think we shouldn't give it more importance especially on a day like today where the team fought and gave a lot. Unfortunately, we could not get a win but at least we didn't lose or allow a goal.”
On what the Fire lacked this season:
“I think we lacked consistency. We lacked belief in the more difficult times. When we had tough times we tended to have doubts and those doubts don't help. I think our confidence broke. The group's spirit didn't break and that is why I am happy with the work realized by the entire coaching staff who never allowed any player to give up, or explode, and come out with things that could hurt the locker room. All of that was handled well given a constant exploration, communication and conversations with individuals, and I think that was very important. I think that at the very least we've done that well but we lacked confidence. Our spirit never broke but our confidence did at times, and that affected us. It affects the next game, it affected progress, and it affects results. To summarize, I think among those things, we've failed.”
If there was a moment in the season that signaled a turning point:
“I think there were a couple of turning points that we missed. I think the main moment was when we stepped in against the top six teams. We couldn't just sustain there and be consistent with the performance. We lost the momentum, I think it was against Philly at home, I think that was a very important game for us and also some games before that. We were kind of very close to getting rid of the burden that we were carrying with injuries from last season and this season at the beginning, too. So as I said before, in Spanish, we were looking for that moment where we get the win that will give us the necessary confidence so that we can carry on throughout the rest of the season and throughout the period where we were punished, severely punished with the injuries, until the injured guys come back. I think that was the progress once we had them back. Day by day, training was better and the competition in training and in games was better. So I think injuries hurt us. We weren't capable to go beyond these difficulties and deal with this tough adversities and that's something that we have to learn so that we can understand the importance of that part of the game, which is dealing with injuries, dealing with difficulties, and overall having to play a long season and having a complicated schedule. Especially in moments when the other team starts to get decisive, which is between July and August, where every point is important. Short answer, I think we never got to the point where we played confidently and without the burden of the past we were carrying throughout the season.”
On stopping Wayne Rooney:
“I think having Bastian Schweinsteiger next to him helps a lot. It helps in the challenges where he has to play one-on-one against him but also to deal and organize the back line so we could be more dense. Djordje and Dax did a great job cutting out Acosta. I think the two of them, they connect very well. Rooney lays off the balls to him and then the final pass, and the talent Acosta has is very difficult to defend and obviously a lot of quality there. I think between our two center backs, Bastian and Jonny Campbell, and our two midfielders, Dax and Djordje, did a great job playing 4v2 basically all the time, against the two of them and that was very helpful for the rest of the team. They can deal with their one-on-one battles around the whole field and that was very helpful. But definitely, it wasn't easy. It wasn't easy. I think they got a couple of opportunities and they are capable of creating chances. But huge credit to those guys and the whole team today for the defensive performance I think we had, and that at the end reflected in the result where we didn't concede a goal. We just have to do a better job on the other side of the ball and take advantage of the opportunities in the first half and score goals in those moments where we were very close. I think we had a couple of good chances.”
What the team could do differently heading into next year:
“Well, I think there are lots of things we have to fix first and restructure. I think it's very important the structure of the team and I think these are very technical and very subtle things that we still have to discuss and I cannot go into the details, but definitely as we were progressing throughout, not only this season, but these three years, we were always figuring out things that we still have to improve and find in moments where we could not fix it, during the season, the crucial points that we in the future will have to do better. I cannot be more concrete but I can tell you that yes, there are things that we want to improve and we have to improve and I want to examine it and get better and I will definitely address that with our staff and with Nelson when we have an opportunity to talk about it.”
On Alan Gordon's retirement and what he brought to the team:
“First of all, we all want to thank him for an amazing spirit he brought into the locker room. A winner, experienced guy who never gives up. Somebody who is always with a good humor. Every morning he comes with a renewed enthusiasm to work together with the rest of the team and the staff. So he was very, very inspiring for the locker room and for the staff, too. We all had a great relationship with him and when he said he was thinking about retiring and probably that he's going to make that decision, we felt like he left an open door here at this Club. This is the kind of guy that you want, not only on the field, but later in the structure of the Club, if he obviously wants that to continue. But that's maybe a different discussion, but I just want to thank him and tell him that we were very grateful for everything he did. It's not easy after playing so many years in a professional level and environment and where every year the demand of the game is higher and higher and you have to push your body more and more, definitely he did that very well. That's why he has such a long career and success in it. So we are all very grateful and blessed that we had the opportunity to work and live with him for this one season. No matter what the season and our success was this year, what is the most important thing is the people who matter and, in his case, I think he's a great man and leader and we all want to wish him good luck in the future and hopefully, at some point we can work together again.”
Bastian Schweinsteiger – Midfielder, Chicago Fire
Thoughts on the season as a whole:
"The season was not easy because we had many injured players from the beginning. Then, when you're missing some main keys in your game, it affects it a little bit, it's not as easy then to play with different players through the whole season. Still, we were always close in some games, we didn't lose many games by far. It was not that teams really dominated us. The mentality of this team and the character, we never gave up, that was good to see. But of course, you could see throughout the season, it was not a coincidence that we are where we are. We missed some quality pieces, I think, and that makes a difference in the games at the end of the day."
On defending against Wayne Rooney:
"I think that, of course, Wayne, you always have to keep an eye on him. With one chance, he can make the goal like he did in D.C. so you have to keep an eye on it. But not only him, D.C. has some pieces, especially their offensive threat. You always have to keep an eye on it. I wish him all the best for the playoffs, it's great that he joined the league. But we did today a good job against not only him, against all of their offensive players."
On the defensive performance of the team:
"You have to defend, not only do you have to play against one player, they have also, for example, Acosta who is good, also the wingers are good, you have to keep an eye on them. It's a team effort and I think the team effort was today good against the ball. I was trying to keep an eye on him, of course, that's how you stop these kinds of players. But also the offensive players today did a great job against the ball. If the offensive players in our team are working defensively good, that's easier than for the back line to defend."