Nemanja Nikolic scored his first hat trick since arriving in MLS in a 3-2 come-back win by the Fire over the Philadelphia Union on Sunday. Upon scoring the first goal in the 3rd minute of play he raced over to the sidelines and lifted the jersey of his injured teammate Michael de Leeuw, When asked later about the celebration he said, “This goal was for him, Just to show him that we love him and we wait for him to get back. He’s a really important part of this team, a real fighter, a real teammate.” Nikolic ever the team player, he is happy when he scores goals but only if it helps the team. He added this about his fellow striker de Leeuw, “He helped from the first day I came here. When I had bad momentum, he was close to me, gave me advice sometimes. It helped me. It’s good when you have a player who plays in a similar position like you, but he want to help you. He’s a real sportsman.” This team you can tell is like a band of brothers, who support and love one another. That was never more evident than in the NYFC game after de Leeuw’s injury the team was not the same they seem disorganized, obviously upset over their fallen teammate.
This team first mentality has been missing from the team in previous seasons, and the results showed it. So what is it about this team that is different? Could it be the Dax factor? The Fire went out and got midfielder Dax McCarty in the off season, because he is a proven leader, and has a killer do or die attitude on the pitch. Could it be the addition of German Superstar Bastian Schweinsteiger who has a soccer brain bordering on sheer genius? The play of the fullback twins, Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent has been a key part of the team success, in fact the Fire faltered without them on the field. Vincent notched two assists on Nikolic’s goals. On was beauty of a long range pass right onto the boot of the on rushing Nikolic who was able to put away his shot easily. Head coach Veljko Paunovic is always on the sidelines during matches pacing waving and yelling, always stressing it is the play of the team that matters. When it seemed like the team wasn’t playing with any passion in the first half of the Philadelphia Union game, he put in David Accam which seemed to provide the much needed spark to overcome the 2-1 deficit and get their first comeback win of the season. After the match Paunovic had this to say about the team’s poor first half, “We thought the first half that the game for us was over, we can never again have that mindset that is unacceptable”
We may never truly know what has made the difference this season, from young 18 year Djordje Mihailovic who is already a key contributor to the team of World Cup vet ran Schweinsteiger, long time MLS vet Dax McCarty one thing is clear the Fire is back .I leave you with a little math, no groans. They have 16 wins one more than the previous two seasons they have 55 points, 24 more than 2016 and 25 more than 2015. There are now two players with hat tricks. I could go on but you get the picture.