VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Not even a week after Veljko Paunovic officially joined the Union, manager Peter Nowak threw the 33-year-old Serbian forward straight into the fire.
Even though Paunovic had not played a professional-level game since 2008, he was in the starting lineup Saturday night for the Union's 1-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps. With Carlos Ruiz on national-team duty for Guatemala at the Gold Cup, Nowak preferred Paunovic's experience to Danny Mwanga's youthful energy.
Paunovic was paired on the forward line with Sebastien Le Toux, and played in a withdrawn position behind the French stalwart. It was a role that Le Toux is accustomed to playing for the Union, as opposed to being a target player up front.
That may have had something to do with why the Union - and Paunovic in particular - didn't create many chances against the Whitecaps. Paunovic did not take any shots, and only one of the Union's eight tries was classified as a shot on target.
Paunovic's best contribution in the game was a pass. In the ninth minute, he played a ball for Justin Mapp along the left flank. Mapp had Le Toux open in front of goal for an easy finish, but the centering pass was intercepted by Whitecaps captain and U.S. national team veteran Jay Demerit.
In the 59th minute, Paunovic was substituted out for midfielder Michael Farfan. After the game, Nowak said that was his plan all along.
Nowak conceded that Paunovic "still needs match fitness." But on the whole, Nowak was pleased with what he saw.
"Maybe he was a little too far from Seba [Le Toux], but he did a good job to get the ball in good spots and spread it out," Nowak said. "I think that for the 60 minutes we prescribed for him in this game, he did pretty well."
Nowak also acknowledged that he and the Union's coaching staff haven't quite figured out yet just what Paunovic's ideal position on the field should be.
"Is it behind the striker? Is it as a third striker? Or just as a pure striker?" Nowak wondered. "We've got to figure this out, and we've got the time right now - the games are coming fast, but during the week you always have some time to figure out the best combinations."
Paunovic said he was looking to play as a setup man. After the game, he was philosophical about why the Union failed to score.
"We just needed more concentration in the last 20 meters, to just find the last pass and score the goal," Paunovic said. "I think in the second half we got to that point, but we missed. In soccer, the one who misses, he loses."