Moving a player out of his natural position is always a big risk for a manager. In some cases, it works out perfectly, like Gareth Bale’s famed evolution from decent left back to world class left winger. However, if the player is unable to adapt, the coach has to take the blame. Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic loves to tinker, as has changed the position of several players during his three year tenure. As always, some of these decisions have payed off, while others have made Pauno look like a fool.
Diego Campos: RW to RB
The most recent player to be moved around by Paunovic, many fans were surprised to see Diego Campos starting at right back against Atlanta United a few weeks ago. The Costa Rican had a decent enough outing on the day, helping the Men in Red advance to the next round of the Open Cup. It was clear that Campos was still a natural winger, as he was able to help the offense, but got burned too easily on the defensive side of the ball. Some thought this would’ve been an one-off appearance, in order to give Kevin Ellis some rest, but Campos kept his spot in the team for the Fire’s next game in Seattle. It was more of the same, as the Clemson product did his job on the right hand side. Now, fans are left to wonder if this change is one for the foreseeable future. Starting right back Matt Polster might not be back this season, and Campos seems to be Pauno’s newest answer for the injury problems at the position.
Matt Polster: CDM to RB
Speaking of Matt Polster, he was one of the first players to play a new position under Paunovic. Drafted by Frank Yallop in his last season as Fire manager, Polster started his Chicago career at his natural defensive midfielder position. He performed well early, with many seeing him as the spine of the Fire for years to come. That all began to change when the Fire were able to pick up Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger during the offseason. Both were obviously great signings, but it meant Polster no longer had a starting role in the middle of the park. Paunovic realized he had to find a spot in the lineup for Polster, who was too good to be kept on the bench. He opted to use him at the right back position, which turned out to be a masterstroke. Polster needed some time to deal with the new demands of the position, but quickly grew into the role, and became a key part in the Fire team. Fans already knew of his abilities defensively, but he really grew as an attacking threat, picking up several key goals and assists. The only thing that has been able to stop Polster have been injury problems, as he is likely to miss the rest of this season as well. If he can stay healthy, and find his old form again, Polster could become the first choice right back for both club and country.
Drew Conner: CDM to RB
When Polster had injury problems over the course of last season, Paunovic went back to his old tricks by converting another central midfielder into a right back. This time, it would be Drew Conner coming back to help on defense. As a similar player to the man he was replacing, Conner had similar problems initially adapting. The homegrowns lack of size was exploited early, but he began to learn how to use his low center of gravity to his advantage. By the end of the season, he cemented himself as the backup option at the position. Unfortunately, this year has been a different story, as Conner was never given much of a chance, and now sits behind four other players in the depth chart.
Bastian Schweinsteiger: CM to CB
Arguably the most controversial call made by Paunovic during his tenure at the club, his decision to play Bastian Schweinsteiger at centerback to start this season dominated headlines. The German had played as a central midfielder during the prime of his career, and eve lead his nation to World Cup glory at the position. Some thought the Fire manager was insane to move Bastian back, but it was more a call made out of necessity than choice. Chicago gave up goals for fun to start the year, with the defense in desperate need of a leader. To the credit of both player and manager, Schweinsteiger did improve the backline. His composure made him a calming presence, and he allowed the Fire to build attacking moves from out the back. It turned out to be just a short term solution, as Bastian has returned to the midfield, but was one that was not nearly as bad as many people made it out to be.
Brandon Vincent: LB to CB
There was plenty of hype surrounding Brandon Vincent when the Fire picked him up on Draft Day in 2016. He was described as the most ready made prospect, and had even made an appearance with the United States national team. Vincent became a starter at the left back position on day one, and really began to prove why he was so highly touted in his sophomore season. However, some thought he had regressed after a slow start to this year, and was even benched for the Fires win in Orlando. Paunovic decided the player needed a change, and begun to play him at center back in the following contests. There’s not been been a notable improvement defensively, and some have begun to doubt whether or not Pauno has made the right call. The biggest issue is Vincent’s lack of height, as he isn’t able to win key headers at the back. This decision has also hurt the Fire further up the field, as Vincent played a key role in the team’s offense when he was able to push up from the left back position. Only time will tell where the players future lies, but it seems this experiment is one that should be coming to an end as soon as possible.
Luis Solignac: ST to RW
Coming in from Colorado during the middle of the 2016 season, Luis Solignac was initially the first choice striker for the Fire. He grabbed a few goals, but never showed any true consistency. Once Michael De Leeuw and Nemanja Nikolic joined the club, it was clear Lucho was no longer the man to lead the line. However, Paunovic wanted to keep him in the lineup, so he shifted him out on the right wing, where he has played every since. It’s a role better suited to the Argentine, who never possessed the clinical finishing ability needed out of a starting striker. Solignac is able to create more out wide, and support his teammates with intelligent runs that open up space in the final third. He has had a tough time since returning from injury, and will need to be back to his best if the Fire want any hope of making a push to the playoffs.