BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – The goal-starved Chicago Fire and their win-starved fans got a much-needed lift from new Dutch forward Michael de Leeuw in his home debut.
The 29-year-old de Leeuw, acquired on May 17 from FC Groningen in the Netherlands' top flight, delivered his first MLS goal on Wednesday night, and it stood as the match-winner in Chicago's 1-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City.
“That’s what we were looking for,” Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic told reporters. “A guy who can score goals, a guy like Michael who will have a work rate for the team and a commitment with our style and with our identity. He proved himself, of course, and we look forward to seeing more of this, more of this kind of performance scoring goals, but being committed to the team.”
The 19th-minute strike, just the 16th goal of the season for the Fire, was a simple and clinical thing.
Brandon Vincent sent a free kick into the left corner, where Razvan Cocis was waiting to cross the ball in for de Leeuw's a close-range tap-in. But while it was a no-frills finish, de Leeuw's vision and positioning to take the shot -- against Sporting's top central defense combo of Matt Besler and Nuno Coelho, who pulled up lame came out shortly after the goal -- showed why the Fire went after his services.
"I think we started good, but there were a lot of long balls, and it was difficult against those twin towers in the back," de Leeuw said in the postmatch news conference. "But I think I managed it, and if you can score in your first home game, that’s always great.
"I couldn’t miss that one. It was great from Brandon with the good ball to Razvan, and he gave me a perfect goal. It was a perfect assist."
The victory, in a match that kicked off nearly two hours late because of a weather delay, moved Chicago out of the Eastern Conference cellar, ahead of Columbus Crew SC on goal differential.
And after averaging just under a goal every two games in his career, de Leeuw -- who made his debut as a halftime sub in Chicago's 1-0 away loss to Toronto FC on Saturday -- looks to continue boosting the league's lowest-scoring offense.
“The confidence is high because you score in your second game,” he said. “I get my chances every game, so I think I can score always. I’m not going to say a number because that will put a lot of pressure on me, but I’m trying to score every game. I think I will get chances, so if I make the chances, I will make goals.”