All quiet on Chicago Fire front -- for now
The big Chicago Fire news out of Toyota Park on Wednesday was that there was no big news, at least as far as coach Veljko Paunovic is concerned.
At a news conference to wrap up the 2017 season, Paunovic said he has not taken the Serbia national team coaching job and hasn't interviewed for it despite reports to the contrary. He expects to coach the Fire in 2018.
"I haven't talked to anyone from the Serbian federation. I did go to Serbia for a different purpose, professional scouting trip and to see my family. But I also went to Europe, other countries, to do more scouting. And that's all I can say," Paunovic said, adding he's happy coaching the Fire.
Nothing to see here. Except the Serbia job remains open, and Paunovic, a native of Serbia, coached many of the Serbian players to the U-20 World Cup championship a couple of years ago. Who, if offered, would turn down a chance to coach in the World Cup?
For now, however, Paunovic plans to join with general manager Nelson Rodriguez and the rest of the operations staff in planning for next season. That starts with figuring out what contract options or loans to pick up, as well as working toward signing new players. Rodriguez said the Fire has until December to make decisions on current contracts.
As current players head into the off-season, many of them wonder if they will be back.
"The good news is that I'm not the GM," said captain Dax McCarty, among those almost certain to return. "I don't have to make those decisions. But I did have conversations with Nelson, and I think he's had conversations with everyone on the team trying to gather guys' opinions on how the year went and where we can get better."
Several players are using this time to heal after a late-season rash of injuries struck the Fire.
Midfielder Juninho had arthroscopic knee surgery last week and is expected to be ready for preseason training in January if his loan is extended or his contract bought.
"I have a meeting on Friday. Of course I expect to be back," said Juninho, on loan from Club Tijuana in Mexico.
Lemont native Djordje Mihailovic had ACL surgery last week and is planning to spend his winter rehabbing and watching film.
"I'll be working a lot of tactical sessions with the coaches," said the 18-year-old midfielder, adding surgery went as well as can be expected. "Training doesn't stop for me."
Dutch midfielder Michael de Leeuw is scheduled for ACL and MCL surgery on Thursday morning. Like Mihailovic, he will miss the start of the 2018 season, possibly a few months.
Midfielder David Accam had sports hernia surgery Tuesday.
Following a late-season knee sprain, forward Daniel Johnson said he was cleared to play three days after the New York Red Bulls eliminated the Fire from the playoffs on Oct. 25.
Which brings us to how the Fire can improve after a season in which it placed third overall, earned its first playoff berth since 2012 but did not advance past the knockout round.
McCarty has the answer.
"For me, we have to improve in four areas," he said, keeping it simple. "Goalkeeping, defending, midfield and attack. If we improve in those four areas, then I think that we're going to be a very good team."
In other words, stay tuned.
"You guys know as well as I do MLS offseasons are very unpredictable," said McCarty, "so we'll see what happens."