FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Chicago Fire reloaded this past offseason in a major way, adding crucial pieces in Dax McCarty, Juninho and Bastian Schweinsteiger in the heart of midfield, as well as Nemanja Nikolic up top.
That quartet has played a major role in their resurgence -- Chicago have accumulated the second-most points in the league to date. However, Luis Solignac, a holdover from 2016, has been equally as important and was at the heart of everything the Fire did well in a 2-1 victory over the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium on Saturday evening.
“Lucho is the player that we brought last year because we saw qualities in him that he can do what he’s doing right now,” said Chicago head coach Veljko Paunovic said, of the former Colorado Rapids striker. "It’s playing and performing at this level where he scores goals, where he helps to score and also helps the team when we struggle and have to defend. That’s the complete profile that we look for in players in every position, and he’s fulfilling that.”
The Argentine’s biggest impact came in the 61st minute, as he burst through the Revs’ back line, finishing past a helpless Cody Cropper.
The 26-year-old’s stamp was also notable on Nikolic’s opener in the 18th minute, as he checked his run back, giving the Hungarian striker open range to slot beyond Cropper. With those two contributions, the Revs’ 11-game home unbeaten streak was snapped, and Chicago earned its ninth MLS win of the year, two more than their 2016 total.
“I’m learning from Niko, a great striker,” Solignac said. “Paunovic told me to look at him and gave me some advice as well. I’m trying to be focused in those key moments.”
Solignac’s showing came four days after he scored a wondergoal of sorts in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S Open Cup, giving the Fire a 1-0 win over Saint Louis FC.
And, on the year, Solignac now has four goals and three assists, already a career high for him in MLS, all through just 15 games played. Still, he gave credit to his teammates for putting him in position to succeed.
“It’s not just with Niko, all the guys in front are doing a great job and helping me,” Solignac said. “All the guys can play in different positions and we kind of move around, so we’re all in great shape right now.”
Against New England, there was extra pressure on Solignac’s shoulders, as his opposite winger, David Accam, did not make the team sheet. Paunovic said Accam had “small physical issues,” but wouldn’t go into specifics and added that Chicago is working to get him healthy for their next game.
Despite that, Solignac still thrived, particularly impressing right back Matt Polster.
“Lucho’s been on fire,” Polster said. “He’s created some chances, got some goals, and I think it’s only up from here for him as long as he keeps playing at this level.”
Jonathan Sigal is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com.