Nemanja Nikolic opens Chicago Fire account, and is "going to convert more"

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill.—He might not have appreciated the record-low temperature for a Chicago Fire home opener, but Nemanja Nikolic was suitably warmed by his first goal for his new club, a first strike as the Men in Red scored a comprehensive 2-0 victory over Real Salt Lake.

Toyota Park basked in frigid 28-degree Fahrenheit sunshine, a new low as the Fire opened their home slate in this 20th year in MLS, but the home side was red-hot in racing into a 2-0 lead by the 15th minute thanks to goals from Nikolic and Arturo Alvarez that came four minutes apart.

The Hungarian international, who endured a frustrating time in the 1-1 draw vs. Columbus Crew SC in Week 1, wasted no time in his second MLS outing when he capitalized on an unfortunate Sunny toe-poke to evade the offside flag and calmly slot the ball past the advancing Nick Rimando.

“My first game in Toyota Park, my first goal and my first victory for Chicago, it’s wonderful,” Nikolic said. “I expect this. Of course, after the 1-1 in [the] first game I saw after the game that it’s very important points if we go on to win at home today.”

Head coach Veljko Paunovic was understandably satisfied that one of his main offseason signing was able to hit the ground running and give the fans who braved the conditions something to celebrate early on. 

“I think it was very important for him and for the team to score in his first opportunity in a game,” Paunovic said. “The confidence and everything that we’re looking to get from him is coming. We believe also that he’s doing a huge amount of effort to help the team when the team is in a situation where we have to defend or we have to press and his commitment is great in all that.”

“It was very important to see him have a good game. We also believe that as the season will start moving forward we believe that he’s going to get even sharper and convert more opportunities because I think today he could get maybe one more goal.”

The sub-zero conditions factored in a game that was high on effort, but perhaps lacked the intensity you’d expect with both teams chasing their first win of the new season. Nikolic was definitely not pleased about having to play in the wind and the cold, but was effective nonetheless.

“The conditions are really difficult, for me it’s something new,” Nikolic admitted. “It’s a lot of wind, it’s too cold and I need to adapt on this, but it’s also difficult when we have training in the middle of the week so it’s not the same like in the Europe. I want to work hard in Chicago so I hope that in a few weeks we will have better weather and more people in the stadium.”

The 29-year-old forward was never in any doubt that he was clear to run on goal for his unusual opener, spotting that referee Kevin Stott was waving play on and giving him the clearance to proceed.

“It was difficult to see because he was behind Michael [de Leeuw] and the other player, but the situation was clear for me," Nikolic said. "I was just afraid that the referee don’t see this and it will be offside, but because the side referee gave the signal that it’s offside and when I turned I saw that the referee [motion to play on] I was sure that it was a good ball.”