Coach's future uncertain as Fire again miss playoffs
When he entered the Toyota Park media room almost 40 minutes after the final whistle of the Chicago Fire's final game of the season, Veljko Paunovic looked like a man carrying a great burden on his shoulders.
The Fire coach's three-year contract expired with that final whistle. Looking weary after a difficult season, he gave no indication he has been asked back, though he seemed willing to accept a contract extension if offered.
"It's a huge moment finishing the season when we all don't know what our future will be," he said in his opening statement.
The Fire finished 2018 with a meaningless 0-0 draw Sunday against playoff-bound D.C. United, which showed how a team can overcome a bad first half of the season with a couple of key midseason acquisitions and a bunch of home games.
The Fire finished its third season under Paunovic and general manager/president Nelson Rodriguez a lowly 10th in the Eastern Conference of MLS, 8-18-8, for 32 points. It was one of the worst seasons in team history.
"I'm completely and fully responsible for the bad results this year," Paunovic said, doing his best Harry S. Truman imitation. "I think that for me personally, I have to improve and get better and give everyone who are expecting from me results, give them those that they deserve and want and are expecting."
The character Paunovic showed is admirable, and deserves a lot of the blame, as any coach of a losing team would. He hasn't developed young players very well, his lineup experiments often went awry and some of his substitutions were difficult to understand.
But there's plenty of blame to go around. The players deserve their share, of course. Mostly, though, Rodriguez and ownership need to step up and accept blame.
That Paunovic had to experiment so often and so drastically with lineups speaks to management's failure to provide a roster that could contend.
"I think that there are things we have to fix first and restructure," Paunovic said later. "I think it's very important, the structure of the team and these are very technical and very subtle things that we have to discuss and I cannot go into the details. But definitely as we were progressing throughout not only this season but these three years, we were always figuring out things that we still have to improve. ...
"I will definitely address that with our staff and with Nelson when we have the opportunity to talk about it."
Paunovic didn't say when that conversation would be, but presumably it will happen before Rodriguez meets with the media Thursday afternoon to wrap up the season.
Bastian Schweinsteiger was a little more direct.
"We missed some quality pieces, and I think, and that makes a difference in the games at the end of the day," Schweinsteiger said.
Like Paunovic, Bastian Schweinsteiger's return also is uncertain. Unlike Paunovic, the 34-year-old midfielder turned defender likely can determine his own fate.
"I have to think about all of it, have some talks and we will see if yes or no," he said.