Most of the vestiges of former coach Veljko Paunovic’s tenure are gone. But Paunovic’s last major acquisition — a player who never suited up for him — is making a huge contribution for the Fire.
Signed after the end of the 2019 season and a month before Paunovic was sacked last November, midfielder Alvaro Medran has established himself as perhaps the Fire’s best all-around player. Entering the game Wednesday at Minnesota United (6-5-5, 23 points), which is still scheduled despite an MNUFC COVID-19 scare, Medran has started every game for coach Raphael Wicky.
“I mean, we all know Alvaro’s qualities,’’ Wicky said. ‘‘They’re above-average, they’re amazing. He’s an amazing midfielder and a very, very important player for our team.”
Medran was supposed to be an important part of Paunovic’s fifth season in Chicago, but he got past the initial oddity of the situation last year and quickly accepted the change, a process that was helped along by a call from Wicky after he was hired in late December.
“[Wicky] cared about me; we talked,” Medran said. “This is a team sport. This is teamwork, so you just have to work through it as a team, and that’s how you become successful.”
Recently, Medran’s contributions have been noteworthy.
Medran’s goal against the Houston Dynamo, in which he gained possession in the Fire half and dribbled for more than 50 yards through the opposition before a clinical finish, could be the team’s goal of the year. And on Sunday against D.C. United, his set-piece deliveries led to both goals in a 2-1 victory.
Such performances show why Medran has spent time at the highest levels of Spanish soccer and why Paunovic was eager to bring him to the Fire (5-8-4, 19 points). It also helps that Medran is in stride after last suiting up for Rayo Vallecano in the spring of 2019.
“I never doubted his qualities, never,” Wicky said. “I think, since I’m here, he was an important player for us. He had a tough year last year without enough games. We spoke about him at the beginning of the year. He didn’t play since May 2019 until the friendly games in January, February. That’s a long time with no [soccer], and we had to bring him back to a level, and we’re bringing him back to a level. You see his performances; he’s a very good player.”
Now that he’s getting to play a lot, Medran is showing his quality, even as Paunovic is an ocean away after landing a job with Reading in the English second tier.
“I’m a player that needs a lot of rhythm and to keep playing and continuity that I hadn’t had for a while,” Medran said.
“As I’ve been able to get more and more continuity, I’ve been able to get better and better as time goes by.”