Nemanja Nikolic - Chicago Fire - Blowing kiss to crowd
USA Today Sports

Nikolic unconcerned by goal drought ahead of Fire's clash vs. Toronto

Even when Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic was confidently banging in goals at a record pace, he knew a time like this would come.

Nikolic believes in the ups and downs of a striker’s life, riding your confidence when it is high and maintaining it when it should be low. After scoring twice in a win over Vancouver last month, he talked about how he bounced back from bad prior games, telling reporters that “you can miss the chances but you cannot lose the belief in yourself.”

Now in the midst of his longest MLS scoring drought – no goals in six games since that brace against the Whitecaps – he doesn’t seem to be panicking.

“Obviously it’s not a easy situation for me, of course for the striker it’s very important to score, to try to score every game,” Nikolic said Friday. “I think in soccer, in striker life it’s normal when he will have momentum, when everything will be OK, he will score a lot of goals, he have feeling that from every situation he shoot on the goal it will be a goal. And also on the other hand, you have the momentum when you feel that whatever you do nothing is good and you cannot score a goal you don’t have luck.

“So I think this is normal. … I think the situation like now that I have, more than ever I need to have confidence in myself, in the work I do because I am the same player.”

Until a few weeks ago, Nikolic was a terror to MLS defenses. The Hungarian international scored in 12 of Chicago’s first 18 games, netting 16 goals in that span.  

The two-goal performance in Chicago’s 4-0 win over Vancouver on July 1 had Nikolic on pace to break the MLS single-season scoring record. Along the way, the new Designated Player had helped lift Chicago into first place at the Gold Cup break.

Since then, however, he has been shut out for the past six matches, going more than a month and a half without finding the back of the net.

“Nothing has happened,” he said. “Now I have a moment when I don’t have too many opportunities to score, I don’t score in the last six games, but I’m really proud of what I achieved until now and the most important is what will happen in the end of the season, not during the season. …The most important thing is to believe in myself, in the work, and also I have feeling that the team, the staff believe in me and this is also very important for the player.”

Not surprisingly, the Fire have struggled over the same stretch. After a 3-0 loss to Montreal on Wednesday, Chicago is 1-4-1 in the six matches since Nikolic last scored.

Saturday’s visit from league-leading Toronto FC (8 pm ET | MLS LIVE in the US; TSN 1/4 in Canada) presents the biggest possible stage for him, and the club, to get back on track.

“I think this is the perfect moment to change the situation for me and also for our team,” Nikolic said. “We don’t lose one game here in Toyota Park and this gives us the confidence and belief that we can get a good result here. It will be the most important game in the season against Toronto. Very, very important for me, for the club, for the team.”

For his part, Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez said during a recent media roundtable he wasn’t concerned about Nikolic’s struggles coinciding with the club’s run of form.

“No, we beat New England 4-1 and he didn’t score,” Rodriguez said, pointing to the one win in that six-game stretch. “What I do think is fair to say is – and this is no secret – Nemanja does his best work in the box. One thing that has not been as consistent, or as much quality, is our delivery of the ball to Nemanja in and around the area. That is the phase of the game that we definitely have not recovered since the break. … I think that’s more incumbent upon how we’re playing and what we’re doing than on Nemanja himself.”

Nikolic agreed that there was nothing physically he needed to do to break his slump.

“We have 10 games more and my job is to change this situation as quickly as possible and to be back in the business and score a goal again,” he said.


ExtraTime Live from CenturyLink Field!

Watch ExtraTime Live on Sunday at 8:30 PM ET. The guys will be on the ground in Seattle to lead you into the final match of the weekend with exclusive interviews and everything you need to know from Saturday night's action. Set a reminder to watch