Paunovic: New Fire signing Nicolas Gaitan will "raise level of the league"

Nicolas Gaitan - Argentina - controlling the ball

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Nicolas Gaitan only became a Chicago Fire player a day ago, but expectations are already extremely high at SeatGeek Stadium for the winger signed on a free transfer from Chinese Super League club Dalian Yifang on Thursday.

“Talent-wise, he’s probably one of the most talented players that’s ever played in [MLS],” said Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic on Friday. “He’s going to raise the level of the league as well as the competition in our team and that’s something we expect to be of huge importance.”

Paunovic said he believes Gaitan can have a similar level of impact on the Fire that Ignacio Piatti has had in Montreal, in that although Gaitan is “a different type of player,” he can immediately improve multiple facets of the Fire’s attack.

“It’s a great reinforcement and I think he’s definitely going to bring the quality we’re looking for in the final third with final passes,” he said. “Also, he’s a very good set piece taker and that’s something we’re looking to improve.”

Paunovic’s expectations for Gaitan extend beyond the stat sheet with the coach saying that, despite a resume that includes Benfica, Atletico Madrid and 19 appearances for Argentina, Gaitan must not underestimate the quality of MLS.

“He needs to know that he’s coming into a very competitive environment and a very competitive league, not an easy league,” he said.

To help the transition, Paunovic noted the importance of the club doing their best to help Gaitan adjust, something they have experience with after Bastian Schweinsteiger joined after the start of the 2017 season and made an immediate impact.

“We’re going to give him everything he needs to get to know his new teammates, the league, the style of officiating, the opponents and all that,” he said. “So we have to work fast because we want to bring him up to the level he’s performed at in the past for his former clubs and the national team.”

Expected to be an elite playmaker, something Chicago have lacked for several years, Paunovic also said he can be crucial in improving the individual skills of his new teammates.

“With his quality he will bring a different talent, and different way of playing that hasn’t been seen before in our team,” he said of Gaitan. “That’s going to make the others benefit from learning different skills and ways of competing, and that’s how you raise the level and how you learn.”

Paunovic did caution against anyone jumping to conclusions about exactly what impact Gaitan will have, and that adding a player of Gaitan’s ability does not change how hard the team must work in every game if they want to achieve their goal of returning to the MLS Playoffs.

“Overall, we still have to earn it if we want to win games, but I think he’s going to be helpful.”