BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – While Thursday’s press conference at SeatGeek Stadium was ostensibly about Nicolas Gaitan, there was no shortage of questions for Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic about the tactical implications of such a marquee signing.
The Fire’s front six have been fairly consistent through three games, and it’s obvious something will have to give in terms of who plays, and where.
Pressed to be specific about which players will be impacted by Gaitan’s arrival and how the tactics might change, Paunovic didn’t seem fazed by the decisions he’ll have to make.
“Give me good players and I’ll figure it out,” he said.
As for whether he’ll stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation the Fire have begun each of their first three matches with, Paunovic said he wasn’t too worried about that either.
“We don’t have to care about that,” Paunovic said. “Everything is behind the ideas and everything is about the qualities of the players we have. I’m confident that we are going to be a much better team.”
He didn’t specify a position for Gaitan, suggesting he can be successful either playing behind a striker or on the wing. Depending on where Gaitan ends up, there could be implications for players like Djordje Mihailovic (who has been playing as the No. 10) or Bastian Schweinsteiger (who could be shifted to center back as a result).
Gaitan said that, if he can do what he does best, the exact position doesn’t matter to him. What he’s focused on is developing chemistry with his new teammates.
“I’m creative, I love to be creative and distribute the ball and I need to be with my teammates to be able to do that,” Gaitan said.
Whatever specific position Gaitan plays, what’s important, Paunovic and Fire president/GM Nelson Rodriguez both stressed, is that Gaitan fills a need they feel the team has had for quite some time.
“We believe that for the style of soccer we wish to play, a winning style that will be enjoyed by our fans, our team needs a dynamic, creative, offensive midfielder,” Rodriguez said. “In Nico Gaitan, we believe that we have acquired such a player.”
Paunovic said that Gaitan brings things to the squad they didn’t previously have. Not only his attacking talents, but creating competition for places in attacking positions.
“It’s going to increase our competition on the team, it’s going to give us more options,” he said. “Not everyone’s always going to be happy. We know the players want to play, and the players are only happy when they play. The thing is that we are a stronger team with Nico and everyone else who’s on the team, we’re going to figure it out.”
Paunovic also thinks that improving the attack by adding Gaitan can pay dividends for the team’s defense, where there isn’t the same depth the offense now has.
“I know you guys are always going to bring it back to our defense,” Paunovic said. “But sometimes being capable of committing more players [forward] and forcing teams to defend more can help our defense, too.”
As for how soon Gaitan will be on the field, Paunovic said that while everyone is eager to see him play, they don’t want the hype that comes with Gaitan to impact the timeline. He said it’s important to be mindful that Gaitan has had to make a lot of difficult decisions and may need time to adjust to his new surroundings so that he can be at his best.
“We will work together to see when he’s ready to play,” Paunovic said. “But yes, we are eager to have him on the field as soon as possible, but we don’t want to be anxious about it and make the wrong decisions.”
Gaitan said he’ll be ready whenever the team decides he is, in part thanks to having gone through a full preseason in China and continuing to work over the last month while home in Argentina.
“I’m ready, I have the desire to go out there,” he said. “Maybe I can’t last a whole 90 minutes right now but I’m ready to go out and take the field. I’m not coming in on nothing.”
While there will inevitably be tough tactical decisions to be made once Gaitan does take the field, Paunovic said the process is very simple:
“The team that wins is the team that plays.”