Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic reveals formation plan

Veljko Paunovic - Nelson Rodriguez - Chicago Fire - MLS Combine

CHICAGO, Ill.—Much of the offseason dialogue emanating from the Chicago Fire’s newly-installed general manager Nelson Rodriguez and head coach Veljko Paunovic has revolved around buzz words: “The Plan”, “The Process” and talk of an “adaptable” style.

Specifics have, however, been few and far between; both men kept cards close to their chests as they worked diligently behind the scenes to shed 2015’s last-placed squad of players who didn’t quite buy into the new ethos, bringing in men with the “character," “personality” and “passion” that they hope will define the Paunovic era at Toyota Park.

Paunovic, who led Serbia to the U-20 World Cup last summer, oversaw his first training session with the new charges Monday in a session filled with the passion, precision and learning that he has spoken so much about.

With more and more pieces added to the jigsaw each week, and with the opening game against New York City FC just six weeks away, Paunovic revealed details of how he plans to set the team up.

“We want to start with 4-2-3-1 and this is how we are going to work,” Paunovic said, after day one of preseason training at the PrivateBank Fire Pitch facility.

“We want to have alternatives and in order to be adaptable and to surprise I think we have to work on alternative systems too,” he added. “But it’s not the system, it’s all about the players and the coaching so this is what we are going to do, teach and learn, continuous learning and teaching and improve every aspect of the game on the group side but also on the individual side, which is very important.”

For the first time since taking the reins last November, Paunovic had the opportunity to brief his team as a group, and take individuals aside for isolated 1-on-1 tutoring. At one point, he took a player by the shoulders and guided him to a position on the field where he thought he could offer a better outlet for his teammates. 

It presented an immediate glimpse into the 38-year-old's attempts to mold this group of young players into the “winners” he and Rodriguez have set about assembling.

“It’s very important for them to learn my voice and corrections,” Paunovic said. “I think that the coach who doesn’t stop the session and correct is missing very important things to do, and this is my style, this is how I work. I like what I’m doing and in order to build our team and our style we have to correct and talk, and not only before the session or after the session, during the session is the best opportunity to do that.”

On the day the club also unveiled the new 2016 primary adidas kit – which included the return of the white stripe, on a Valspar-sponsored shirt – Rodriguez insisted the enthusiasm abounding within the facility on Day One of preseason was not by luck or chance, but the result of a vigorous recruitment process that has been patient, deliberate and calculated in its execution.

“The positive energy that I hope you saw today was not just Day One positivity,” Rodriguez said. “It is a character trait that we recruited for in all of these positions.”

That said, the GM knows talking will matter little if results don’t follow on the field. He remains confident that the Fire are heading in the right direction.

“Trust is essential to any healthy relationship in any endeavor and within a team setting even more,” Rodriguez insisted. “But like anything else we’ll have to prove it over time. It’s one thing to talk about it, it’s entirely another thing to prove it.”

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