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The Short Leash

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Djordje Mihailovic’s role has been reduced to a late game substitute, but he’s not the first who’s fallen out of favor quickly this season

Chicago Fire v New England Revolution

One of the most mentally exhausting things of being a professional athlete must be the constant question of where you stand with your coach-day to day, and how that might impact you on gameday.

As Chicago Fire supporters, we hear rumors and get tidbits of information from reports from training, but we really only see the product on the field, leaving us constantly questioning team selection and wondering why the player that we rate is not in the manager’s plans.

Veljko Paunovic does not disappoint in this mystery— for a coach who comes with a reputation as someone who builds relationships with key players and has been key in the recruitment of the Fire DP’s, there’s an interesting trend of him giving a player many opportunities, and then inexplicably yanking them from seeing the field for an extended period. By this, I mean, we have seen many times Vlejko Paunovic hand a player four or five straight starts only not to see them again for two months.

What sparked this? Djordje Mihailovic has come on as a late game sub in the Fire’s previous two matches and has seen his role in the squad steadily decline over the summer after being a sure-fire starter to begin the season. Mihailovic hasn’t exactly taken the next step to be the dynamic midfielder just yet in his career trajectory this year on the field, but he was on the wrong side of the team sheet during the key stretch where the glimmer of playoff hope surfaced for the Fire. This happened relatively swiftly, and I am curious as to the series of events that lead to this.

It hasn’t been just Mihailovic either this year. What happened to Raheem Edwards? The dynamic left-sided player hasn’t surfaced for months. Jeremiah Gutjahr was thrust into a huge role early in his rookie year as part of the outside back merry-go-round at the beginning of the season, but he’s essentially been replaced by Michael Azira behind Dax McCarty. Mo Adams was perhaps the greatest example of this; someone who looked like he was constantly in and out of the good graces of the Fire manager, never really grabbing a constant run of games for the Men in Red.

I confess, we don’t have an eye on the training pitch or an ear in the locker room, but are these cases because players dip in form? The tactical set-up of the team changes from game to game for Paunovic, thus the personnel must change in his mind? Is there something greater going on that we don’t know about? I am not sure, but Paunovic’s leash has proven to be extremely short, especially with young players that are not quite fully developed.

At this point, looking to the 2020 season is the only thing that makes sense for the club at this juncture, and early signs indicate that the roster will have a large amount of turnover. If Veljko Paunovic is to inherit a different roster, will this short leash continue? Or will he be able to be more flexible with a younger, different roster?