BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Alex scored perhaps the biggest goal in the biggest game of the season for the Chicago Fire in the 86th minute against New England on Saturday, but the Brazilian waited to react.
The midfielder wasn't shocked about his goal after coming into the game three minutes earlier. He didn't think his left-footed shot had been saved. He was simply following a coach's directive after beating goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth from 25 yards out, slipping the ball into the near post with precision.
“In the locker room, we talked about how, if anybody scored, we were going to celebrate as a team,” Alex told MLSsoccer.com through a translator. “So I waited for everybody to come close to me.”
While he took great care to focus on the team during the celebration, Alex's individual abilities have been a driving force behind the team's surge into the playoff race over the last few months.
After starting just six times last season, the 24-year-old has 14 starts in the Fire's 17 games since June 2nd. But since holding midfielder Arevalo Rios arrived last month, Alex has been pushed out to the outside during most of his time on the field, and he's thriving in a less defensive position.
“He can do a lot of special things on the field, but he's adapted to the team, blended into what the team is about, and he's doing great for the team, which overshadows the amount of moments and qualities he can bring,” midfielder Patrick Nyarko told MLSsoccer.com. “He's doing a lot of work defensively and that's really not his game. But he's adapted for the better of the team.
"You see the last four, five games, he's been doing brilliant, and everybody has been happy with him. Obviously you can do more. Me and Chris [Rolfe] were talking the other day, he's finally coming out of his shell, and it's really the right time for us.”
When Alex came to the team in June of last year, teammates raved about the player they saw during training camp, a creative attacking midfielder who could play as a second striker if need be. Nyarko said Tuesday that everyone has known for quite a while he's an “attacking genius.”
While the adjustment to a physical league and a counter-attacking team took a little time, his emergence hasn't shocked coach Frank Klopas in the slightest.
“Alex has been playing well,” he said. “It hasn't surprised me. Normally, it takes time for players to jell in and to get comfortable and stuff like that. I think with time, you see the player that he can be and he has a lot more to give for sure.”