Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic constant tinkering has showered him with criticism on a near daily basis, not only from fans but also from us. Not only does he change tactics every week, but he also ask splayers to play out of their natural position. The most notorious example was with now-retired left back Brandon Vincent last season. He was tasked to play in the center, which placed the whole back line out of sync and cost the Fire some much needed points.
In the defense of Paunovic, he works with what he has in front of him. Injuries that periodically take key squad members out of rotation often leave Pauno with little choice. And sometimes his tinkering does benefit the team.
The most recent example was last Saturday’s game against Real Salt Lake City. With Johan Kappelhof out with an injury, Paunovic needed to find someone to play as a right back. Przemysław Frankowski would take up that roll, but he was being rested on the bench after international duty. Who does Paunovic decide to slot in that position? Brandt Bronico.
The midfielder played surprisingly well at that position. He dealt with RSL’s wingers very confidently. He also established a strong partnership with Aleksander Katai, freeing up the Serbian winger with his passing and workrate. While it’s probably not suitable for Bronico to play that position every game, it’s nice to know that the Fire have another option out there.
Another successful example of midfielder-turned-defender under Paunovic would be former player Matt Polster. During the 2017 season, Polster became a solid fixture in the back. In the 22 games Polster appeared in, the Fire had an average of 1.95 points per game compared to only 1 in the games he didn’t appear in. Polster also developed qualities of a modern-day fullback with his midfield knowledge. What that mindset, he had a hand at seven goals in that same season
Polster succumbed to injuries during the 2018 season and his missing presence out in the back was very evident judging by the results on hand. To this day, the Fire still hasn’t found a suitable replacement for him.
But perhaps the notable switch that Paunovic has asked his players to do was with Bastian Schweinsteiger playing as centerback. Last season there was a hole in the back with the departure of João Meira during the offseason. The Fire were suffering defensively and with no defensive reinforcement coming in, Paunovic had to improvise.
Schweinsteiger’s new positioning was first utilized during the 2-2 draw against the Portland Timbers and since then has become a mainstay of Paunovic’s formation. While fans cried out, he didn’t seem to mind his new position. He even stated that he “preferred to play as a centerback at this stage [of his career].” As fans and even the folks here at HTIOT gradually accepted that, Schweinsteiger has quietly attracted some attention with his performance out in the back. He was recently chosen to partake in the 2019 MLS All-Star game as a defender.
While all of this shows the versatility of the players, Paunovic does deserve some credit in all of this. Though his formations and tactics can be questionable at best, he’s demonstrated that he can find more out of a player and unlock it.