Goals from Djordje Mihailovic, Nemanja Nikolic and Aleksandar Katai propelled the Fire into a 3-0 lead by the 66th minute, and despite a late goal from Diego Rossi, Paunovic’s side kept their nerve to see out a game and earn all three points. The win leapfrogged the Fire (8W-16L-7D) above Toronto FC into ninth place in the Eastern Conference ahead of the Reds match against New England later on Saturday.
The Fire’s failure to reach the playoffs was confirmed with their 2-0 defeat at New York City FC on Wednesday, but there was no sign of despair or self pity on show as the hosts’ effective counter-attacking play saw them emerge victorious against an LAFC side coached by former Fire double-winning coach Bob Bradley.
“We can say we are the worst team, we are not a good team, the whole season we sucked, and the people can say whatever they want about us, and about me also as a coach, but one thing we showed today is professionalism,” Paunovic said in his post-game press conference.
“We showed that we are out of the playoffs, but we play until the end with every team in the league,” he added. “With contenders like today, the teams that already clinched playoffs and the teams that still have to fight for it. I think it’s very important to understand, today we were the team that didn’t give up on the season, we respected our opponent, we respected our opponents around the league also because we performed. This was just a great performance from our guys, this locker room is still alive, and this locker room has great people inside, great competitors who want to give their best and that’s all we ask.”
The Fire conceded possession to LAFC (14W-8L-8D), who remain in third spot in the Western Conference, enjoying just 34 percent of the ball and relying on the inspired goalkeeping of Stefan Cleveland in just the fourth MLS start of his fledgling career.
“We will definitely, the next three games, play the same way like we played today,” he said. “We are not going to give anyone points, we are not going to give up, we want to be professional and we want to be the team that is recognized by good values and giving our best all the time until the end.”
Asked what he wanted to see on the run-in, he said: “I definitely want to see the drive to win, the respect for our profession in terms of, not only as a job, this is our life. So we all know in this locker room you have guys who had surgery this year, guys who are coming back from injuries, guys who left their families wherever, you have guys who are having a difficult time, you have guys who are giving their best in every session and in every circumstance we had.
“That’s what you have to value when you step on the field, and if you give up on that you give up on yourself. And I just want our guys to be aware of that and we will definitely encourage everyone to give their best until the end.”