BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – The signing of Nemanja Nikolic didn’t raise too many eyebrows throughout MLS, but the Chicago Fire always knew they had a potential star in a striker who has stormed to the top of the scoring charts with 10 goals in 11 games.
Since his arrival in January, the Serbian-born Hungarian international has quietly gone about his business, doing what he does best in finding occasional openings behind opposing defensive lines and punishing with precision more often than not. He had his second brace of the season in a 3-0 rout of the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday.
If his signing fell a little under the radar, his dramatic and immediate rise to top scorer in MLS is sure to have made defenses and coaches throughout the league stop and take notice.
For head coach Veljko Paunovic, Nikolic’s impressive and immediate impact has not come as a surprise, and he insisted he knew exactly the caliber of player the club were getting from Polish giants Legia Warsaw.
“We were 100% sure who we were bringing into our locker room and in our team and his hunger for scoring goals,” Paunovic said. “But also, meantime, he is helping the team, and that’s the attitude and mentality we want from everyone.”
Another two clinical finishes against the lowly Rapids, on assists from Brandon Vincent and Michael de Leeuw, propelled him above Houston’s Erick Torres into the outright lead lead on the goal scoring chart with 10 goals.
“I think he has that natural hunger for scoring goals,” Paunovic added. “When I spoke with him before we brought him here, he said ‘you know I’m not happy when we don’t win, I’m not happy when I don’t score, so you just have to know that I’m gonna always try to score goals, give my best.’”
“Give my best” he certainly has, and after a relatively slow start with one goal in his four games, Nikolic has not looked back since scoring the game winner at home against the Columbus Crew on April 8. He is the fastest player league-wide to reach the 10-goal mark and, tellingly, the fastest player in Fire history to do so.
Has he been surprised by his immediate success? Asked that question with his two children playfully in tow in the locker room, he responded with a quizzical “no…are you?” For him, he is happy with his productivity and performances, but insists he is more focused on the team and the success of the collective, especially so with the Fire climbing above the two New York sides into fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 5-3-3 record, good for 18 points.
“I think the most important thing is that the team plays good,” he said. “I don’t do nothing special. I think that my teammates make a fantastic job for me, I’m all the time in the right place and also like today I don’t have a really difficult job to do to finish the action. So thanks to my teammates I adapt good and fast.”
Shane Murray is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.