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Speed, Silence & Shipp: Paunovic gives preseason update

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Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic checks in from Tampa to talk about team speed, a stagnant pursuit of a European center back and the desire to see Harry Shipp score more goals.

You can watch Alex Morrell take on mortal enemy University of South Florida on Saturday at 4 p.m.
You can watch Alex Morrell take on mortal enemy University of South Florida on Saturday at 4 p.m.
Robert Duyos-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Fire did not experience the big European signing other MLS clubs enjoyed on the big transfer deadline day for most foreign countries.

While the Colorado Rapids brought in Shkëlzen Gashi -- a two-time Swiss Super League Golden Boot winner -- and New England inked a contract for Xavier Kouassi starting in July, the Chicago Fire went another day without landing the mystery center back from Europe.

Patience has been the message from general manager Nelson Rodriguez from the beginning, and patience is what will continue to be needed for Fire fans. Though the European window closed Monday, MLS teams will have until mid-May to bring in players from other clubs. Ideally, Rodriguez' target would be signed before the March 6 opener, but mid-May is still better late than never.

The Chicago Fire front office has not publicly acknowledged any player of interest, but widely rumored target Marcin Kaminski continues to look like less of a possibility, at least in the near future.

It's generally not a great indicator when a player of interest is still playing entire games for his current club if any soon-to-be deal was in the works. But fear not, there is plenty of time.

For the time being, Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said he and his staff is working with what they have and approaching the preseason as if the players in camp are the ones who will be available on March 6.

Paunovic, who checked in from Tampa Bay Monday on a conference call with Chicago media, said he was very pleased with the current group of players and was coy on any potential signings that could be coming. Paunovic said his focus was on getting the present group to perform at its highest capabilities and believed the staff has already made progress toward that goal. Here are some of the highlights from the call.

  • Paunovic had somewhat reserved praise for Harry Shipp, saying he sees the fan favorite as an attacking midfielder either behind the striker or on the wing. But, he said Shipp needs to develop a "hunger to score goals" and look to create more in general. For a coach that clearly focuses on speed and intensity, Shipp might not be the most natural fit. But I think it is safe to say Shipp's talent (which doesn't include blazing speed) will still allow him to find a home in Paunovic's system.
  • The new coach stressed he is focused on creating a high intensity team that plays fast and controls the game. Overall, he has been impressed with the team's pace, but said there is still work to be done, especially when it comes to entering the final third. That's not too surprising to hear. Players such as Gilberto and David Accam can certainly perform in that area, but the still-gelling back line and a midfield without Matt Polster will probably have a hard time getting the ball up field.
  • New trialist Arutro Alvarez has only had few moments to make an impression on Paunovic, who said the MLS veteran has quality but would have to show what he can offer the team before any decision is made on a long-term future. It sounds like Alvarez needs to catch up a bit fitness wise, which is understandable. I don't think he is a guaranteed signing despite his MLS experience that spans from 2003-11.
  • Homegrown signings Joey Calistri (forward) and Drew Conner (midfielder) have made positive strides in camp. Paunovic said both players are very intelligent and generally very good but still need to improve. I've always thought they are likely better off in St. Louis where they can get real experience rather than warming a bench and getting precious few chances in MLS in non-pressure situations. Hopefully they get a chance to play in preseason.
  • Nick LaBrocca (FlockaFlame) was at his first training session. Reunited with Michael Harrington.
  • THE PRESEASON GAME ON SATURDAY IS GOING TO BE STREAMED ONLINE! That's right. I thought we would only see the Portland tournament, but it turns out the Fire brought some cameras along with them. You can watch the Fire take on University of South Florida at 4 p.m. at www.chicago-fire.com. I don't know regional Florida rivalries very well, but I think Alex Morrell is going to want to put on a show.