Michael de Leeuw - Chicago Fire - September 3, 2016
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Michael de Leeuw says Dax McCarty trade adds much-needed bite to Fire

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. – Chicago Fire striker Michael de Leeuw believes that Dax McCarty will provide the bite needed both on and off the field.

“I think we need it,” the Dutchman said when asked about the Fire’s newest recruit. “We needed new players for different wind in our locker room because last year wasn’t a great season. We are very happy with the new players. Also with the other players, but with the latest signing.”

For de Leeuw, the trade for McCarty and the additions of Juninho, Nemanja Nikolic and Jorge Rodrigo Bava will provide a different chemistry. One capable of igniting the spark that was lacking last year.

“I think the locker room last year was too nice,” the 30-year-old said, as he recalled from a frustrating season in which the Fire finished with the fewest points total in either conference.

“It’s good to be nice of course, but sometimes you need more aggressive players and more leadership on the field and in the locker room,” de Leeuw continued. “I think the people we signed are going to make us better.”

The former Groningen man scored seven goals and had three assists in 18 appearances in his first season in MLS. Despite his production, though, the Fire finished with the worst offense in the Eastern Conference (42 goals). And while de Leeuw admits he doesn’t yet know the thinking of head coach Veljko Paunovic, there is the exciting prospect for Fire fans that de Leeuw could feature in a striking duo with Nikolic.

Whatever the alignment, de Leeuw is hoping the Fire can transform from bottom dwellers to title contenders in the space of an offseason. Just as other teams have done in recent seasons.

“I think Colorado, last year, was at the bottom and this year they were second in the table,” de Leeuw said. “You don’t know. Every year is different and we’re building on the team and I hope the players we get are going to make us stronger and better. I have good faith for us to reach the playoffs and I hope, in the end, win something.”

Colorado finished the 2015 season at the bottom of the Western Conference with just 37 points, but additions of the likes of Shkelzen Gashi, Tim Howard and Jermaine Jones helped to engineer a miraculous turnaround and in 2016, the Rapids improved to 58 points and finished just two shy of winning the Supporters’ Shield. 

Of course, it takes more than just new faces to turn things around so quickly. If Chicago are going to mimic what the Rapids did last season, de Leeuw believes a change in away form is the biggest piece of that puzzle. After picking up just five points on the road last season, the Dutch dynamo believes it's another issue of mentality.

“We have to play our own strategy,” de Leeuw remarked. “If you are playing home or away it doesn’t have to be different. You just have to have confidence and play away like you play at home.”