Niko was a bright spot in an otherwise bleak section of Fire history. Along with David Accam, he came into the squad in 2017 and helped turn the club around. The Fire went from last place team the year before into a contender for the Supporters’ Shield, lifting the sprites of a beleaguered fan base, giving them something to believe in, and injecting some life into a club that was on life support. That year also saw him win the golden boot, become MLS Best XI in win Best MLS Player at the ESPYs.
Despite never reaching that level of success again, Nikolic leaves the club as it’s second leading goalscorer, scoring 50 goals in only 90 appearances, and his absence leaves a gaping hole in the attack, and one that the front office must fill in the off-season. While CJ Sapong did an admirable job in attempting to fill in while he was slumping this season, It won’t be enough going forward.
This will be the first big test of the new front office. Replacing Niko’s goal output will be critical to succeeding next year, regardless of other moves the club decides to make. With this news and the retirement of Bastian Schweinsteiger, the Fire now have two open designated player slots open, and how they fill them will be extremely important.
This is something that in the past, this club has not been good at. When they sold David Accam to Philadelphia, they failed to replace his production and influence right away. It wasn’t until Przemysław Frankowski this year that the club got close to that mark. The Fire need to sign someone just as dynamic and influential as Niko was this winter.
One of the names being talked about as a replacement, mostly because of this tweet, is Olivier Giroud. Despite this rumor feeling like his agent trying to drum up more interest for him in the European market, the Fire should still make an effort to sign him. He’d be great in MLS. His power and intelligence would run over some of the inexperienced and poor defending, and with the quality of service he’d get here from the likes of Nico Gaitán and Frankowski, there’s a good chance he could challenge Vela and Zlatan for golden boot winner or league MVP.
Another name I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is Bobby Wood. Currently toiling in the 2. Bundesliga with Hamburger SV, he only has three league appearances in nine games and no starts. He’s played just 23 minutes for the club, and could really use a change of scenery. Wood is a lot more similar in playstyle to Nikolic than Giroud would be. He’d pressure back lines the same way Niko did, and would be more athletic and able to high press for longer periods of time.
Regardless of who they get, the club cannot let this lie like they did with Accam. The Club put a lot of pressure on themselves to be successful in 2020 with the move Soldier Field. Therefore, replacing Nikolic’s production is a “must do” this offseason. If they don’t, than they can kiss any dreams they had of becoming relevant in the city goodbye.