BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – With three goals in his last three games, veteran Alan Gordon is riding the crest of a wave with the Chicago Fire. However, the 36-year-old has no doubt about his role in Veljko Paunovic’s squad and remains fully committed to playing a supporting role to lead striker Nemanja Nikolic.
Gordon’s header last time out against the San Jose Earthquakes brought the well-travelled striker’s total to four goals in 12 regular-season games for what is now his sixth MLS club.
Gordon has started the last two games after replacing the injured Nikolic at halftime in the 2-1 win over Orlando City SC, but with two goals on his return to the team in the midweek U.S. Open Cup Fourth Round win over Columbus Crew SC, Gordon expects to revert to super sub once the Hungarian proves his match fitness.
“Niko is the starter on the team and I fully support him in that,” Gordon told MLSsoccer.com. “The last time I checked Niko is still the reigning Golden Boot winner, he’s a fantastic goal scorer and he’s still the man. When he’s fully fit, I expect him to get back into the lineup and score goals and I maintain my role off the bench.”
Paunovic has typically opted for a formation that requires a lone striker in the middle of a front three or ahead of a deeper lying creator like Aleksandar Katai, Diego Campos or, occasionally, Bastian Schweinsteiger. He has rarely opted for a straightforward 4-4-2 setup, which would require a traditional front two, but Gordon would be more than happy to partner Nikolic if, and when, required.
“Ultimately, that’s Pauno’s decision and Niko is a great teammate and we’ve been very supportive of each other, we’ve both been pushing each other,” Gordon said. “I fully support him and he supports me, and anything that’s going to get us wins and make us successful, we both want. With that being said, any job that the team asks me to do, I’m going to do it and I’m going to do it with the best of my ability.”
Gordon arrived late to the Fire’s preseason training camp in Bradenton, Florida, hoping to earn a contract and prolong a career that has taken him from Los Angeles to Toronto and San Jose, while a return of three goals and four assists in 26 games (six starts) last season was not enough to see him renew with the Colorado Rapids. With four goals in 495 minutes from five starts this year, the Long Beach, Calif. native is well on track to surpass that and perhaps come close to his career-high 13 goals and seven assists for the Earthquakes back in 2012.
“No, I’m not surprised,” Gordon said when asked about his early-season production. “You always have to have confidence in yourself. I came here to do what the team asked me to do and what they needed me to do and that’s always been my role in any team. Whether it’s coming off the bench or filling in for guys that go down injured, that’s what I do and I always try to contribute in any way that I can and produce. I’ve been fortunate to and pleased to be helping the team while I’ve been needed.”
At 36, the two-time MLS Cup winner admitted that retirement had crossed his mind after his contract was not renewed by the Rapids,
“Yeah, it was a consideration,” he said. “I had to weigh a lot of options, and in the end I spoke with my family and we decided that this was a good opportunity for me and my family and I just wanted to come here and give everything I had and enjoy it while I could.”
Enjoying it he certainly is — both on and off the field — as his infectious energy, professionalism and commitment have been a huge boost to the younger players in the Fire locker room.
“I think he is doing great, I think he is playing his role fantastically,” Paunovic said. “But most importantly, he is so professional, so open-minded and he has a huge desire to play and to win. Not only on the field, but to help the youngsters also in the locker room. We have a lot of young players in their first year so he’s helping them to understand the importance of what professionalism means, on and off the field, and he’s doing that job great.”
Fellow veteran Dax McCarty knew all about the qualities that has brought Gordon success throughout his time in MLS, and he may even have persuaded the club’s president and general manager to sign the striker.
“When Nelson Rodriguez asked me about him, before we signed him, I said ‘Nelson, if there’s any certainties in soccer, it’s that Alan Gordon is going to score goals at the end of games and pick you up points. So as long as he is fit, as long as he’s healthy, he’s going to do that,’” McCarty told MLSsoccer.com.
“I was more sure of that than I am of a lot of things in life and it turns out it’s been a great signing for us,” he added. “Not just because of the production on the field, but also in the locker room. He’s a wonderful guy to have in the locker room, horrible hair, but a great guy to have in the locker room.”