Forwards naturally go through goal droughts, but how the player comes out of it is the key.
Nemanja Nikolic took Major League Soccer by storm with 16 goals in his first 18 games with the Fire. He was leading the league in goals scored and the league website was hyping his pace to beat the all-time record for goals in a season.
Things have changed. Nikolic hasn’t scored in the past eight games.
“Of course it’s not good when a striker have bad moments in his career, but it’s also our life,” Nikolic said after practice on Tuesday. “We need to know how to live in this, we need to know how to handle this kind of pressure. In the beginning everything was great, I scored a lot of goals. Now I have some bad momentum, but I don’t focus on these kind of things. I just think how to finish these kinds of situations and I am sure that I will score the goals like in the beginning of the season.”
Part of the reason for Nikolic’s scoring slump is a lack of scoring chances. He had four shots in the 2-1 loss to Minnesota on Saturday, but had just five in the previous four games combined.
Nikolic’s struggles have also coincided with the Fire’s. The team has a 1-6-1 record in the eight games Nikolic has failed to score in.
“For sure the team needs my goals,” Nikolic said. “Everybody has responsibility in this, but the strikers are always on the top end. Their job is to score goals and help the team to come out from this kind of situation. I will take responsibility on me and I will help the team I hope with my goals to come out from this.”
As teams have adapted to the Fire’s attack, Nikolic has become a priority for opposing defenses. On top of that, defenses have focused on defending through the middle while allowing the Fire to attack via the wings.
At 5-foot-11, Nikolic isn’t known for his aerial ability, but more and more of the Fire’s attacks are coming from wide areas and ending in crosses into the box. Nikolic’s hot streak came when the Fire were attacking from all angles. As much as Nikolic’s lack of goals have been a cause for the Fire's struggles, his drought is also a symptom of the Fire’s issues in build-up play.
Coach Veljko Paunovic is keeping the faith in Nikolic to get back on track.
“He’s practicing and working on that,” Paunovic said. "That’s the only thing you can do. You can get back to the fundamentals, the simple things, get sharp, focused and getting back to the winning track needs work and belief so I think that’s what he’s doing now and everyone else. We’ll fix it.”