Chicago’s Paunović elated with first road win in two years, eyes postseason berth

Saturday’s 3-0 win over the Montreal Impact was the Chicago Fire’s first since July 2014, and bridges the team’s playoff gap.

MONTREAL—When Veljko Paunović walked through the door of the press conference room at Stade Saputo his smile was so large it almost looked as if it was going to fall off his face.

“We’re news now, right,” the Chicago Fire coach exclaimed before taking his seat.

There hasn’t been a whole lot for Paunović to celebrate this season — the Serbian's first campaign in charge of the Fire, who are last in the MLS Eastern Conference — but now, finally, there was cause to rejoice, as the Fire did what they hadn’t been able to do in more than two years: win on the road. And it did so in convincing fashion, beating the Montreal Impact 3-0 on a night that was hot and humid and in front of a sold-out stadium. 

“It was very important for everyone to say that we finally broke that rut on the road,” Paunović said. “You guys don’t know how the locker room is right now; it’s very excited; the guys are feeling very good. Now I would also like to dedicate this victory to our fans who are waiting passionately and with a lot of patience this win on the road.”

Paunović also praised his players for their consistent play throughout the game and for not letting their guard down as the likes of Didier Drogba and Ignacio Piatti tried to marshal a comeback for the Impact. While remaining defensively composed, the visitors were also the more dangerous going forward. The goals ultimately all came from counter attacks: Luis Solignac put the Fire on the board in the first half, and David Accam and Matt Polster finished Montreal off in the second, making it only the third time this season that the Fire have managed to score more than twice in a game.

Montreal coach Mauro Biello, who was dismayed by his team’s languid performance, credited Chicago for showing much more desire and endeavor on the night.  

“I was not happy about the way in which we played, from start to finish,” Biello said. “We played against a team who gave a lot more than us. They won every ball. In the end, the performance was not good enough for us, for our fans. I hope that we will not see a game like this again this year.”

Though the Fire remain in last place in the East, they now sit just six points out of a playoff spot. Orlando City, with 28 points from 24 games, currently occupies sixth place in the East, but the Fire have a game in hand.

Paunović hopes the win will provide his side with a big boost for the last stretch of the season as the race for the postseason heats up.

“For now we have to take advantage of this win,” he said. “It’s a long way to go. We are very aware of where we are and what we have to do. But this win feels very good and it’s going to help for sure to improve our performance until the end of the season.”