Chicago Fire: Keeping Veljko Paunovic illustrates apathy

HARRISON, NJ - JUNE 28: Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic during the Major League Soccer game between the Chicago Fire and the New York Red Bulls on June 28, 2019 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
HARRISON, NJ - JUNE 28: Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic during the Major League Soccer game between the Chicago Fire and the New York Red Bulls on June 28, 2019 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

It is clear that failing Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic will not be going anywhere. This shows just how little the front office cares.

It has been an utterly disappointing season so far for the Chicago Fire. A team loaded with talent and ability have had some moments of promise, but have suffered many more moments that send their fan base into anarchy. This past week was a perfect example.

Chicago opened up the week by scoring five past Atlanta United in one half; they closed it out by being completely outplayed by Sporting Kansas City, who were in last place in the Western Conference going into the fixture.

After the loss to SKC, change was expected to come. Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic had been on the hot seat before the game, with many believing he would be gone if he couldn’t get the job done. When he ultimately failed, it seemed like just a matter of time before he would be let go. Fans were eagerly awaiting the news, but it didn’t come Saturday night, or the day after, or even the day after that. By the time it got to Tuesday, the reality began to dawn on everyone. Paunovic wasn’t going anywhere.

The refusal to fire Veljko Paunovic shows just how apathetic the Chicago Fire front office truly is.

With Paunovic, the Men In Red have a clear and evident glass ceiling. They have one of the most talented rosters in all of the league, they have a World Cup-winning captain in Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty is an all-time great MLS midfielder, Nicolas Gaitan once had the most assists in a Champions League season. But for whatever reason, it has just not clicked this season, and that, ultimately, is the fault of the manager.

Paunovic has gotten enough quality results at home, but it’s a completely different story whenever the Fire go on the road. His record is simply shocking in away games, and the facts back that up. Chicago are the only team left in MLS to not win a game on the road this season. The last time Paunovic led the Fire to an away win in MLS was back in May 2018. It was only the second win away they would pick up that year. Paunovic’s total in MLS play is only at seven after three and a half years. And it’s been just as bad in the U.S. Open Cup, Chicago eliminated on the road every season since he took over.

Another problem with his management his love to tinker, whether or not it’s good for the team. That is best proven by Paunovic’s constant need to play his players out of their natural positions. The game against SKC was a pristine example as four out of the eleven starters for the Chicago Fire were being put in unnatural spots on the field.

Grant Lillard, a towering 6-foot-4 center-back was instead forced to go to left-back with his lack of speed being exposed on the flank time and time again. The opposite side of the field saw central midfielder Brandt Bronico put at right-back, limiting his ability to link up play further up the field. Covering for him in the middle of the park was Fabian Herbers, who is usually a striker or winger. He was lost throughout the contest. And then there’s Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was a captain for his country in the midfield but now finds himself at center-back. It’s not as an egregious decision as some think, but that doesn’t make it the right one either.

Paunovic is also failing to even get the most out of those he is playing in the right positions. Przemysław Frankowski had an electric debut for the club against the Los Angeles Galaxy. He was fast, direct, and a constant threat in behind. However, ever since returning to Chicago following the recent international break, he hasn’t been the same. He’s just been thrown out wide by Paunovic, whose gameplan leaves him isolated instead of making him a focal point.

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He’s not the only example. Nemanja Nikolic went from a Golden Boot winner to a striker that can’t get a start anymore. Johan Kappelhof has digressed every year he’s been in Chicago and every single goalkeeper that’s played under the Serbian’s management has floundered in one way or another. Even Djodje Mihailovic has seen his career stagnate a bit this season.

There is plenty of proof that firing a failing coach can be key in turning a team’s season around. You don’t even need to look beyond MLS as there are two sides who have already improved immensely after being beaten by the Fire.

The first is the Colorado Rapids, who lost 4-1 when they came to SeatGeek Stadium in mid-April. After another defeat the following week, head coach Anthony Hudson was let go by the club. His replacement was MLS legend Conor Casey and, after a tough start, he led the Rapids back up the table. They went on a seven-match unbeaten run, even beating league-leading LAFC in that span. Colorado dug themselves out of a deep deep hole and now find themselves only three points behind the Fire with a game in hand.

The other is the New England Revolution, who looked to be in a complete crisis when they conceded five to the Fire a few months ago. They immediately relieved Brad Friedel of his duties following the loss and brought in Bruce Arena. The Revs have only lost once since and actually passed Chicago in the Eastern Conference standings, now sat tied with Toronto FC for the seventh and final playoff spot.

Next. Chicago Fire Vs Atlanta United: 3 things we learned. dark

By keeping Paunovic, there is little reason for fans to hope the Chicago Fire will turn things around this season. But the front office won’t mind that. They aren’t too bothered if the Fire are challenging for the title. They just want to make sure they aren’t embarrassing themselves and staying somewhat relevant in order to sell tickets and merchandise. That’s why they are cool with Paunovic. He isn’t good enough, but he is also isn’t bad enough, and that, for the Fire, is more pressing. By keeping Paunovic, Chicago are simply allowing this season — and potentially many more– to pass them by.