Photo by Jeff VorvaFire star Nemanja Nikolic has four goals this year – including two in a 3-0 win over New England Saturday.
CHICAGO FIRE AT TORONTO FC
WHEN: 6:30 p.m., Friday
WHERE: BMO Field, Toronto
FIRE’S RECORD: 3-1-2
TORONTO’S RECORD: 1-1-4
NOTEWORTHY: Toronto outshot the Columbus Crew 19-11 on Saturday night but that didn’t mean much as the Eastern Conference-leading Crew won 2-1.
This is how well things are going for the Chicago Fire…
David Accam, sometimes known as King David, has been the Fire’s leading scorer for the past two seasons – two seasons in which the team has finished with Major League Soccer’s worst record.
But the roster has turned over so much since the end of the 2016 campaign that when the speedy star from Ghana developed right hip pain days before Saturday’s match with the New England Revolution, he was removed from the starting lineup.
Although he came into the game in the 71st minute and quickly recorded an assist, the team has so much firepower and depth that he really wasn’t needed as newcomers Bastian Schweinsteiger (a goal in the 45th minute) and Nemanja Nikolic (two goals in the second half) took care of business in a 3-0 victory in front of an announced crowd of 16,914 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview.
New England’s over-aggression also played a role in the victory as Je-Vaughn Watson received a yellow card in the 21st minute and a mere six minutes later, he picked up his second and the Revolution (2-3-1) played a man short for more than 60 minutes.
The Fire is off to a Chicago area code start with a 3-1-2 record and is 2-0-1 since signing Schweinsteiger, who has two goals and an assist in three matches.
"It is very important for us that we won,’’ Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “This is the first (two-victory streak) we've had in two years since I've been here, I'm very happy for that. I'm also very happy we closed our home game streak with a win and three points. I think that everyone is doing their job. Everyone is starting to understand how important the teamwork is.’’
Nikolic and the team celebrated early in the first half what appeared to be the first goal of the game but it was disallowed because he was offside. He got his chance later in the game and scored in the 47th and 73rd minutes. Accam and Schweinsteiger assisted on his second score.
"The most important thing is that the team plays good,” said Nikolic, who leads the squad with four goals. “Game by game, we're getting better and better. We have an identity now and everybody so badly wants to play. The players behind me are in good form, so for me it's also easier. They gave me a great ball today and I scored two goals.’’
Goalie Jorge Bava and the defense racked up another shutout. All three victories this season against Real Salt Lake, the Eastern Conference-leading Columbus Crew and New England came via shutout.
"It's one of the most important things in football -- to keep a clean sheet,” Nikolic said. “Our defensive line played good. Game by game, we are very strong and solid in the defensive line. We work a lot in training on these things. If we don't look at the Atlanta game (a 4-0 road loss March 18), when we played with 10 players and it was difficult to defend, all other games we have played we are organized very good in the defensive line.
“We need to keep doing this, because we can score every game, so if we make the clean sheet and we try to be better in this area, we can win a lot of games like this."
The Fire hits the road for games against Toronto (Friday), the New York Red Bulls (April 29) and the Los Angeles Galaxy (May 6) before returning home May 13 for a match against Seattle.