The Chicago Fire are last in Major League Soccer with 10 goals scored and are one of two teams in the league averaging less than a goal per game.
That’s why the arrival of Michael de Leeuw is coming with some extra fanfare. The 29-year-old Dutch forward had an introductory press conference at Toyota Park on Tuesday.
General manager Nelson Rodriguez said the Fire identified de Leeuw as a target after scouting his former FC Groningen teammate and current Fire defender Johan Kappelhof.
“In watching Groningen several times our attention kept being drawn to Michael,” Rodriguez said. “What excites us the most is we think we’ve added another important piece to the championship program that we’re trying to build.”
After a lengthy recruitment process that involved waiting for de Leeuw’s season with Groningen to end just after the initial MLS transfer window closed, the Fire hope he can team up with David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike to make a more potent attack. Rodriguez wanted to calm any expectations that de Leeuw can turn around the last place Fire by himself though.
“I want to be clear, while we have high hopes and expectations for Michael and for his play with our club, he’s not a savior,” Rodriguez said. “He is just an important piece to what we’re trying to build through a deliberate and thoughtful process.”
Rodriguez warned against the transition to MLS being tough for new players to the league. Currently, de Leeuw is in the second week of a five-week preseason type schedule set by the club to get him ready for when he is first eligible to play on July 9 at Toronto.
He said he is fit and ready to go, even if he has to wait and be limited to practice for a few more weeks. Monday was de Leeuw’s first training session with the team.
“I can adapt and I get to know the players, I get to know everyone, the city,” de Leeuw said. “I want to play tomorrow because I want to show Chicago, show everyone what I can do, what my capabilities are. I feel fit so I think it’s no problem to blend in.”
As for how he fits in positionally, both de Leeuw and coach Veljko Paunovic said he can play in any attacking position. Paunovic said de Leeuw is a good fit for any of the front three positions in a 4-3-1-2 formation which the Fire used in recent games while de Leeuw called himself a 9-and-a-half, a mix between a true striker No. 9 and a playmaking No. 10.
After playing for four years in Groningen, de Leeuw said he wanted a new experience. He joined the Fire on a two-and-a-half year contract.
“It’s good to get a new environment so you stay hungry,” de Leeuw said. “With Groningen everything was the same so now I got a new environment. Also it’s a good way for me to develop in another country.”
Kappelhof was a source of information for de Leeuw in his process of joining the Fire.
“I spoke a lot with Johan,” de Leeuw said. “He told me that it’s more physical than in Holland. Of course the level with players like Drogba... and now Pirlo. There are big players in the league so the level is of course high.”