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Despite being c-c-c-old, Niko was hot, hot, hot

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE 4 Fire 23 3 16

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Nemanja Nikolic socred a goal in his first home game as a member of the Chicago Fire.

The new star complained it was too cold.

But he warmed up some Chicago Fire fans’ hearts quickly.

New Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic, who scored 41 goals in 56 games for Legia Warsaw, made his Toyota Park debut and, at 28 degrees, it was a coldest home opener in the history of the team.

"The conditions were very difficult for me,’’ he said. “It's a lot of wind, it's too cold. I need to adapt to this, it's not the same as in Europe.’’

Imagine how good this guy could be when the weather warms up. He warmed up to the crowd in Bridgeview right away in the 11th minute as he scored his first MSL goal to help the Fire beat Real Salt Lake, 2-0, in front of an announced crowd of 13,024.

Nikolic’s one-on-one finish was aided when Michael de Leeuw carried the ball forward near midfield, and Real Salt Lake midfielder Sunny (yes, that’s his name) stepped in to make a tackle, but hit the ball past his back line and into the path of Nikolic. While most on the field stopped with an offside call on their mind, Nikolic continued forward and slotted his shot past goalkeeper Nick Rimando.   

"I think it was very important for him and the team to score his first goal on his first opportunity,’’ Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said.  “We believe that he is doing a huge job and effort to help the team when the team is in a situation where we have to defend, we have to press, and his commitment is great and it is very important to see him have a good game. We also believe that as the season will start moving forward, we believe he will become even sharper and have more opportunities and maybe he can get one more goal." 

The Fire (1-0-1) received its other goal from Arturo Alvarez at the 15-minute mark after the ball hit an RLS defender and the ball deflected away from Rimando, whose team fell to 0-1-1.

The Fire defense stayed busy the rest of the way and goalie Jorge Bava earned his first MLS shutout.

But it was Nikolic who is giving fans the most hope after the team finished with an MLS-worst record two years in a row. When he arrived in Chicago, dozens of fans greeted him at O’Hare International Airport in January.

“MLS is a new challenge for me,” he said. “I wanted to try something new. I decided to come here because of the project, because I spoke with our coach Pauno and with (general manager) Nelson Rodriguez. They were really motivated and they wanted to achieve something this year, they want to invest in the club. After the conversation with Pauno, I was sure I wanted to come here and help him. I look forward to achieving good results here.

"This was my first game in Toyota Park, and my first goal and first victory in Chicago is wonderful. I expect more of this. It is very important to win at home. We start the season with four points, it gives us confidence. We need to stay focused, we need to work, we need to have an identity.’’