To steal a line from play-by-play extraordinaire Dan Kelly, The Lion is finally off his leash.
With time winding down against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday night, Chicago Fire forward-turned-midfielder-turned-renaissance-man Michael de Leeuw provided an emphatic end to an already euphoria-laden night by scoring his first goal of 2017.
“I feel good,” de Leeuw, following his Krakus Ham Man of the Match performance, said. “Finally, you know. The monkey is finally off my back. But I think it was an elephant. I’m happy with my goal.”
The goal was the final in a 4-0 rout of Vancouver, following a Nemanja Nikolic brace and an Arturo Alvarez blast that propelled the club to its eighth-straight victory at home and first place in the Supporters’ Shield standings.
“It’s, for me, good that I scored, but the most important thing was that we killed the game really soon. It was great. I’m happy with the result, happy with my goal.”
Immediately following his low, curling finish past ‘Caps ‘keeper David Ousted, de Leeuw was embraced by set-up man Nikolic and swarmed by the rest of his teammates.
“That felt great, the support. I felt that the guys were also feeling it, that I needed a goal. I felt the love from the guys. That’s great.”
After bagging seven goals following his summer debut for the club in July of last season, de Leeuw’s first finish of the 2017 campaign had been a long time coming. A forward by trade, de Leeuw was tasked with playing further back in the midfield after the offseason arrival of current MLS Golden Boot leader Nikolic. As a result, goals were sacrificed for 50/50 challenges, winning and keeping possession in the midfield, and a general heavier amount of the “dirty work” necessary to support his teammates.
“So happy for him,” head coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We were talking about that for a long time now how important his work (is) for the team and how important his assists are for the team.”
His 84th minute finish on Saturday made the long-awaited reward for his efforts a celebration for everyone in attendance.
“I think we were all excited,” defender Matt Polster said. “He’s worked really hard. For him to finally get on the score sheet, it’s going to give him more confidence and that energy to keep getting more.”
“I was feeling it today,” de Leeuw added. “At the end, it’s good that you score the goal. Sometimes you just need that goal to open your tab, open your account, then let’s hope that it keeps flowing now.”
The Lion and his first place Fire side are back in action on Wednesday, July 5, with a trip to Portland to take on the Timbers at 9:30 pm CT on CSN Chicago.