New Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez said he wanted to have his head coach in place by Thanksgiving, and he has followed up on that statement.
The Fire hired Veljko Paunovic, former Philadelphia Union and veteran European midfielder, as its next manager on Tuesday. The 38-year-old Paunovic guided Serbia to the 2015 FIFA Under-20 World Cup championship this summer, and Chicago will be the first club on his managing résumé. Rodriguez told reporters Tuesday that Greek club Panathinaikos also offered Paunovic its managerial job.
Chicago endured a putrid 2015 season, finishing with a league-low 30 points–seven fewer than the next closest bottom dwellers–going 8-20-6 under Frank Yallop and interim manager Brian Bliss.
Previous reports had linked former MLS MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto and former Mexican international and Fire midfielder Pavel Pardo to the opening, while Paunovic slipped under the radar. He was reportedly linked to the Philadelphia Union coaching job, but that remains in the grasp of Jim Curtin.
Paunovic, who also led Serbia to a third-place finish in the 2014 UEFA U-19 European championship, has a tall task to tackle in Chicago.
"I want to thank Andrew Hauptman, Nelson Rodríguez and the whole executive team of the Chicago Fire, for choosing me, among other great candidates, for the coaching position," Paunovic said in a statement. "I am very excited and enthusiastic to start working with the team, to meet the people and fans, who I know are very passionate and loyal to the club. This is the opportunity that I was looking for, to work with the right people, in the right time and the right place.
"I have a huge amount of energy, knowledge and experience to deliver to our team and our community. Soccer is a lifestyle that I live and preach my whole life. I love this kind of challenge, where you have to build a champion by giving your best in every moment. I see the Chicago Fire as a hurt lion ready to unleash all its power."