CHICAGO—For the first time since Bradley Wright-Phillips tied the single-season scoring record in 2014, an MLS player looks like he has a real shot at breaking the league’s most prominent mark.
Chicago Fire newcomer Nemanja Nikolic has 16 goals in his first 21 regular season matches for Chicago, just 11 short of the all-time MLS record of 27. Before failing to score in his last three matches, the Hungarian international was pacing well ahead of the record co-owned by Wright-Phillips, Chris Wondolowski and Roy Lassiter. He’s currently a bit behind schedule, but only a bit – his current pace would see him end a 34-game campaign with 25.9 goals.
Not that the MLS All-Star, who signed a Designated Player contract with Chicago in December, is overly concerned with chasing the mark.
“I say a few times before that records exist to be broken, and if I will help with the possibility I will try to make it. But to be honest it’s not in my focus now,” he said after MLS All-Star training at Soldier Field on Tuesday. “We are in a good position and I am also [doing] good. The club believe in me, and [I’m doing] what I like to do the most in my life and this is to score goals and win games.”
Nikolic’s emergence as a bonafide MLS star is one of the bigger reasons the Fire have surprised the league and currently sit in second in the Supporters’ Shield standings. He’s not the most physically dominant striker in MLS, but his movement in dangerous areas and finishing ability rank among the best in the league.
FC Dallas defender Matt Hedges saw Nikolic’s ability firsthand when he scored in Chicago’s 2-1 home win against Dallas on May 25. Nikolic found space between center back Walker Hume and left back Aaron Guillen and flicked in a Brandon Vincent cross to give the Fire an early 1-0 lead.
“I definitely think the record is in reach,” Hedges said. “If you keep scoring like he does, it’s very difficult to do over a whole season, but I think one of his best attributes is his finishing is fantastic. I mean you give him a chance in the box and he’s gonna put it away. If you look at the other guys that are up with that record, that’s what they do, so he’s definitely got a chance at it.”
Another big part of Chicago’s surge up the standings, All-Star midfielder Dax McCarty, started 31 games for the New York Red Bulls when Wright-Phillips tied the record in 2014. He thinks his new running mate has what it takes to break Wright-Phillips’ mark, but admitted that he’d feel a bit conflicted if Nikolic bests his old friend's record.
“Niko is one of the best goal-scorers I’ve ever played with,” McCarty said. “I think his goal-scoring record speaks for itself. The guy is hungry for goals. He’s never happy if he doesn’t score goals, and that’s the main ingredient and the main mentality you want in a striker. The guy lives, breathes and sleeps soccer and scoring goals. He’s made a great impact for us.
“Maybe [he can break the record]. I do have a really good friend who’s up on top of that chart in Bradley Wright-Phillips, so I would love selfishly for them to tie and for Niko to get to 27 so we’ve got a [four]-way tie. But I think that records were made to be broken, and the record eventually will fall to someone. And if it’s going to fall, then I hope it is to Niko.”