- Associated Press - Thursday, December 3, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) - New Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic doesn’t have a timetable to lead the struggling soccer team back to the MLS playoffs.

But he doesn’t want to wait, either.

“We want to change the dynamic of the last years,” Paunovic said Thursday as he was formally introduced by the team. “We’re going to create an environment and have the resources to perform well. We’ll play to at least get to the playoffs.”

Chicago has missed the postseason three straight years and five of the last six seasons. Its last appearance in the Western Conference final was 2009.

“I know Chicago’s had a difficult time the last few years, but that’s the point of being here,” Paunovic said. “This is the challenge I want to have.”

Paunovic, 38, came to the Fire from coaching a Serbian youth team to the Under-20 World Cup in June. Signed to a multi-year contract on Nov. 24, the veteran of six pro leagues as a player will now be coaching pros.

“We need young players who we’ll develop and veterans who’ll be aligned with the vision, values and have the experience,” Paunovic said.

The squad has only 14 players under contract, including veteran midfielder Harry Shipp and forward Gilberto, after an end-of-season housecleaning, giving Paunovic room to bring in players he favors.

“I don’t see any weaknesses; I see things we have to improve,” Paunovic said. “We know what we need. We want to get an adaptive team. We want winners.”

He and general manager Nelson Rodriguez will be looking at defenders first. The Fire’s 58 goals allowed tied for last in the 20-team MLS this season.

“Intelligence is going to have to become a hallmark of our players,” Rodriguez said. “We have to improve the defense. Attention to that side of the ball has to be a priority.”

Rodriguez knew Paunovic before the Serbian native was playing in MLS, and immediately went to the top of his list.

“A new coach often symbolizes hope,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t have that hope. I have incredible belief we’re better today.”

Paunovic is the Fire’s fifth head coach this decade, following Carlos de los Cobos, Frank Klopas, Frank Yallop and Brian Bliss, the interim coach after Yallop was fired as coach and general manager on Sept. 20.

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