Nico Gaitan credits Veljko Paunovic for selling him on Chicago Fire move

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – By the time he sat down for his introductory press conference with the Chicago Fire on Thursday afternoon, it had already been a busy day for Nicolas Gaitan. After arriving on an overnight flight from Buenos Aires and connection through Atlanta, Gaitan went right to work as a full participant in the team’s training session.

Looking understandably tired and flanked by Fire president and general manager Nelson Rodriguez and head coach Veljko Paunovic, Gaitan expressed how thankful he was for the opportunity that lies ahead of him in MLS.

“I’m grateful for the effort the club put into bringing me here,” Gaitan said via a translator. “I will give the best of me on the field and try to pay them back for that effort.”

The Fire reached an agreement two weeks ago with Chinese Super League club Dalian Yifang for Gaitan’s transfer, also paying a $50,000 fee to the Seattle Sounders for the Argentine international’s discovery rights. The process to bring Gaitan to Chicago lasted more than a month, and Gaitan credits Paunovic, who shares a former club in common with Gaitan as both men have played for Atletico Madrid, for convincing him that Major League Soccer and the Chicago Fire was the right next step for his career.

“[He] had a lot to do with why I chose MLS,” Gaitan said of Paunovic. “He was the first person to contact me and talk to me about his ideas and how he feels about soccer. I think we feel the same way about soccer. That really helped me to make the decision to come to Chicago.”

Paunovic said that, in his view, Gaitan is one of the best players to ever come to MLS and brings talents and qualities to the Fire that no previous player has. But he said it’s up to the entire club to help Gaitan maximize those abilities and bring the most to his on-field performances.

“We are going to surround him and give him our best,” Paunovic said. “He has to feel that and feel comfortable. We have to open the way out for all his talents to flow.”

When asked about his goals with the Fire, Gaitan immediately turned to the team and said his focus is on doing whatever is best for the club; specifically, a return to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.

“I think for every team coming in, the first goal is to get to the playoffs and then after that see how far we can go,” he said.

That’s no small task, especially given the club’s slow start to the season without a win in their first three games. However, there is no shortage of optimism at SeatGeek Stadium about what Gaitan will have in store for the club and their fans.

“You’re going to like what you see,” Rodriguez vowed at the end of the press conference.