Rumors have been flying around Chicago that the Fire are looking to either bench or trade star striker Nemanja Nikolic. This is partially as a result of his slow start, and well as the solid performances of Chicago’s other attacking options. This is a bad decision for Chicago’s front office. They need to put their faith and confidence in their forward; stick with him and support him through his slow start. If they do, they’ll reap the rewards as the season goes on.
Patience, they say, is a virtue. And the Fire have proven that many times over. The Men in Red have endured questionable roster decisions and underperforming players at virtually every position, particularly striker. For a club that was patient with the likes of Kennedy Igboananike, Juan Luis Anongono, and Gilberto, why abandon ship with a star forward that has been a major producer for your team over the last two seasons? Even MLS MVP Mike Magee had cold periods, unable to find the back of the net for games at a time. Yet the team remained confident in their man, allowing him to sort himself while continuing to contribute. Why should Nemanja Nikolic be any different?
Last season Niko was able to produce fifteen goals for the Fire which was good enough for seventh most in the league. He accomplished that goal total on just fifty-two shots, thirty less than any other top-ten goal scorer. speaks to his efficiency and ability to come through in key moments. Even then, Nikolic went through a few stretches where he struggled to find the back of the net, including a 10 game stretch where he scored just once. The Fire need to look at his past performance as a reminder of the talent that their man up top brings, and allow him to do what he does best— score goals.
Now, let’s compare Nikolic to the flavor of the month, CJ Sapong. Sapong’s best season statistically came in 2017 for Philadelphia, where he appeared in thirty-three games and scored sixteen goals in 2,794 minutes of play. That works out to a goal every 174.6 minutes, or roughly one every 1.9 games. However, other than that season, Sapong had never reached double-digit goals in a single season. Meanwhile, during his Golden Boot winning campaign in 2017, Niko produced 24 goals in 2,946 minutes, a rate of a goal every 122.7 minutes, or one every 1.35 games. Even during his slower year last year, the Hungarian finished with 15 goals in just 2,443 minutes, or a goal for every 162.9 minutes. Niko has a proven track record of success internationally and at club level. And the numbers support him continuing to start.
Throughout his career Nikolic has always been a top performer, winning top scorer honors with every team he’s played for. During his time with MOL Vidi FC in Hungry, where he spent five years, Nikolic scored 87 goals in 149 appearances, which brakes down to a highly efficient 1 goal every 110 minutes. For a Fire team that will be heavily reliant on its offense output, sticking with Nikolic up top is the best option for the club, as the veteran striker has proven himself on the pitch and has the right mindset off it, and will be able to lead the charge for the Men in Red as they look to return to the MLS playoffs.