After his latest brace this weekend, which boosted his season totals to a league-leading 16 goals in 18 matches, Nikolic was asked if he is currently in the best form of his professional career.
“No, I have [done] better in my previous club,” Nikolic said matter-of-factly.
“In Legia [Warsaw], last year – I don’t know, I think in the first 15 games I scored 15 goals,” Nikolic said. “It was on every game I scored. Here in MLS, I don’t score in every game. Now I have from 18 games, 16 goals. But yes, in my previous club, a few times in Hungary, I started really good like this and also in Poland last year when I was top scorer I also started really good and I finished the season really good.”
Actually, Nikolic was even better than he recalled. He had 15 goals in 12 games to start the 2015-16 Polish season. The year before that, with Hungarian side Videoton, he scored in each of his first 11 matches.
After failing to convert on a number of chances in the Fire's midweek elimination by FC Cincinnati in the Round of 16 of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, Saturday's brace in a 4-0 victory over Vancouver was a bounce-back performance, displaying the even-keeled striker’s mentality Nikolic often preaches.
“The [way] football is, one time you are up, one time you are down," he said on Saturday night. "So OK, I missed a lot of opportunities against Cincinnati, but I knew that today I will have opportunities and I need to score these. I’m really happy scoring two goals and to have a great performance for my team.”
With his fourth multi-goal game this season (watch goals above), Nikolic has a four-goal lead on his nearest Golden Boot chaser, Houston’s Erick "Cubo" Torres, who netted his 12th in Week 18.
Nikolic is no stranger to golden boot races. He has finished as the top scorer in his past three full league seasons (2015-16 in Poland, 2014-15 and 2013-14 in Hungary) and was the leading scorer when he left Legia Warsaw at midseason to sign with Chicago in December.
“I think the most important thing is to believe in yourself,” Nikolic said, of keeping it up over a whole season. “Of course you will have games like me now, what I have against Orlando for example and against Cincinnati. I have a lot of opportunities to score. I missed.
"But I think you can miss the chances, but you cannot lose the belief in yourself. So you need to keep doing the same things; you need to believe in yourself to try to be better every day and to try to help the team to progress. This is my goal. Of course every game your job is score goals.”
Nikolic’s performance Saturday helped launch the Fire into first place in both the Eastern Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings. It’s the first time they have been in such position at this point in the season since July 26, 2005. Along with the team’s success, Nikolic could be on track for some individual honors.
If he can keep up his current pace, Nikolic would break the league’s all-time scoring mark of 27 goals in a season, shared by Roy Lassiter, Chris Wondolowski and Bradley Wright-Phillips. He is currently ahead of where all three were through 18 games.
Chicago’s Michael De Leeuw said that from the moment Nikolic signed with the club, they could tell how dangerous the Hungarian would be.
“All the way in the beginning you saw he had some little adjustments in the preseason, but you saw in training like, ‘Hey, when this guy's got a chance, it’s a goal,’” de Leeuw said. “The only thing he needed to adjust was to the way we were playing and now he’s adjusted to that. You know with him, a chance is a goal.
"When you have the ball [in the opponent's] half, you know Niko is always waiting on that line to go,” de Leeuw said. “He’s always like a predator, lurking to get that goal. He’s good at that. He’s got 16 goals; man, he’s a killer. He’s a killer and he’s doing it for us, so that’s great.”