The Chicago Fire’s Nemanja Nikolic is living an American Dream in 2017. The top goalscorer in Major League Soccer goes by the name ‘Niko’ and has netted 16 times in his first 19 games. The Serbian born, Hungarian international has been picking up numerous awards in just his first season. Awards which now include being voted into the MLS All-Star game’s starting XI. Nikolic’s play has endeared himself to the Fire and his first year in MLS may be a record breaker. The striker’s stunning 16 goal haul has him on pace to surpass the MLS scoring record of 27. The goalscoring star has also taken well to his new club and city saying that everyone at the club has “gave me the power to be myself and to try to do my best” and believes “soccer fever has arrived in Chicago.” He truly is the Chicago Fire’s humble All-Star.
The new Firebrand forward has been a central piece to the rekindling of Chicago’s MLS franchise. His 16 goals and 3 assists have played large in this year’s turnaround at Toyota Park. The 2015-16 Ekstraklasa Golden Boot winner has been elevating other players as well. Quite notable example of this was his assist on teammate Michael De Leeuw’s first goal of 2017. The Fire’s designated player has also worked well with fellow Fire forward David Accam, who’s output has spiked in 2017. Nikolic’s form has advanced as the entire Fire squad’s has, and improved with every game. If this form remains, the Fire’s ‘team-first-poacher’ will break the MLS scoring record.
Niko: Chicago Fire’s Humble All-Star
A significant aspect of the red hot striker’s role in the Fire is his deflection of praise onto his teammates. The Hungarian international consistently responds to adulation of his success with an honest and humble acknowledgment. “A goal scorer is useless if he does not have support from the midfield” says Niko. “I do my runs, I look for opportunities but I need my team mates to help me and pass me the ball. You don’t really see me have a rocket from 30 yards or a dribble through 4 defenders. I am this type of player, and I want my team mates to know: I am thankful for the support they give me on the field.”
This humble honesty lends itself to Nikolic’s unique control of his play. Nikolic seems to have a great understanding of his own strengths as a player and consistently maximizes those strengths. It is rare to witness him attempt a shot outside 18 yards or beat multiple defenders. The striker rarely if ever attempts powerful or wild shots. His goals have often come as cool and accurate finishes at the end of lengthy passing sequences. While other players may know their own abilities, he plays within his in a unique and practiced manner.
Feeling The Love
The MLS Golden Boot leader clearly knows what he is capable of, now it seems more people are catching on. Niko has recently had his family’s new american life reported-on in features in both Polish and numerous Hungarian publications. Chicago outlets are taking notice, as on Friday he made the rounds on the local TV news circuit in Chicago. The striker has been feeling the love from fans back in Europe as well as locally in the windy city. After scoring a brace during the 4-0 win over Vancouver on July 1st, he pointed up to the crowd and celebrated with great emotion.
“A few times now I [have seen] Hungarian flags and Hungarian people in that area [behind the goal]. At the [Vancouver game] more than 200 hundred Hungarians came from the local Hungarian community. It means a lot to me. I get a lot of messages and letters too from home. Back in Hungary people are staying up at night and supporting Chicago Fire just because of me. Crazy!”
Able To Reload
Before the Fire returned to training midweek, Niko was able to relax and recover in Miami with his family for a few days. “[The break] was needed, because the last couple of weeks were busy and we had to have our energies reloaded.” The vacation came due to MLS’ break for the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament. The recent break comes after playing in six games in a month’s time. The run of games included scoring 5 goals, playing through an extra time match in Cincinnati, and surviving a 2-2 siege in atmospheric Portland. “The body needs the rest especially as there were a few games on turf, which affects the legs and the feet more. It is something that I had to get used to: in Europe you don’t really play on artificial grass, only in the winter time in trainings.” The former Videoton FC forward has also been durable as well as lethal. Nikolic has started every league game since arriving and has played more than 85 minutes on 16 occasions during the opening 19 games of the season.