Nemanja Nikolic exploded with a bang in his first year with the Chicago Fire. In his 35 games in 2017 (including one postseason appearance), he scored 24 goals and provided four assists. He was also an MLS All-Star and the 2017 Golden Boot winner, edging out the likes of Josef Martinez and David Villa.
Even in the woeful 2018 season to follow, he was able to produce 15 league goals. Nikolic is a lethal striker who can run around circles against any team in MLS. But the Niko today isn’t the Niko of yesterday.
Is it just a drought?
In eight games— including preseason— he has a whopping total of zero goals. For some historical perspective, Niko experienced a similarly long drought at his previous club Leiga Warsaw. During the 2016/2017 season, he finally found the back of the net in match day seven. He later scored 18 more goals in all competitions for the remainder of the calendar year.
A dip in form?
The squad is creating chances for Niko but he isn’t capitalizing on them. During the Orlando City game, he had a couple of chances early on in the match but squandered them. He was eventually subbed off.
In the last match against the Seattle Sounders, the squad was feeding him the ball at various stages of the game, but it looked like he was scared to shoot. He had one shot on goal (his first in the season) and his inability to keep possession eventually contributed to the penalty (and Seattle’s third goal on the day) before he was taken off.
Could it be something else?
You could pin it down to Niko from having a newborn. Being a parent to a new child is sure to cause a lot of sleepless nights. He later missed a few training sessions prior to the season opener against the LA Galaxy which he didn’t even feature in. There’s no doubt that being a parent is both emotionally and physically draining, but it’s been a few weeks by now.
But it’s also possible that he’s unsettled. If the rumors are true that the club is shopping him around, it could very well affect Niko’s morale. This is a clear on-pitch problem, but it’s also frustrating to see the club jerk him around like this. In his three seasons with the Fire, Niko has clearly bought into the culture of the club and given everything he had for the badge, going so far as to retire from national team duty so he can “focus exclusively on [his] club career.”
Time To Press The Panic Button?
We’re talking about Nikolic’s supposed dip in form as if he’s the only one on the squad struggling at the moment. He’s not. The whole team is dragging, and while Niko is a leader and our most productive goalscorer, he can’t do everything himself. The whole club needs to rally in order to pull it together.
That includes the front office, who either need to pull the trigger and sell him or do whatever they can to smooth things over. This in-between state doesn’t do anyone any good.