What constitutes success for the Chicago Fire in 2017?
It's a tricky question with the season ongoing. From an outside perspective, the team's turnaround this year, going from back-to-back last-place finishes to a spot in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs wrapped up and a chance to move as high as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference on Decision Day presented by AT&T makes it certainly more successful than in quite some time.
But Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez explained that the team is not prepared to sit back and remain content with what has been accomplished.
"It would be a low bar to call it a success by having made the playoffs," Nelson told reporters during a media roundtable and conference call on Wednesday. "That said, if we win on Sunday, and New York City fails to win on Sunday, we'd be the second-best team in the league. And I think we might achieve our highest points total ever as a club."
In spite of the ambition to continue the run the team is on, Rodriguez did acknowledge the turnaround on the field this season can't be overlooked, either.
"I also wouldn't want [what has happened this season] to be diminished in any way. How we prefer to think is the season's not over. There's still a lot at stake in Sunday's game. And then there's the playoffs, and we can take a good season and make it a special season, so why not? Let's go for it."
One of the prizes at stake on Sunday on the road against the Houston Dynamo (4 pm ET | MLS LIVE) is the MLS Golden Boot award. Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic currently leads the way, with 24 goals, and has a three-goal lead over the next closest competitor.
Rodriguez credited Nikolic's work ethic, including during a nine-game stretch during the season when he was kept off the scoresheet, and praised the Hungarian as "very uplifting" to his teammates. In assessing his tenure with the Fire so far, Rodriguez said "I think Nemanja has fulfilled our expectations."
Should the striker win the MLS Golden Boot, it will be the third different professional league in which he has done so in his career, along with the Hungarian and Polish first divisions. Rodriguez noted "that was the attraction in trying to bring him in."
But will it also lead to speculation he could garner interest from abroad? Rodriguez was asked if Nikolic has been a transfer target.
"In terms of interest from foreign clubs, we did not see any inquiries directly to us in the summer window," he responded. "And we'll see what happens in the winter window, although at this point, just as when we signed him, our intention would be for him to remain with our club."