Fire

Despite scoring drought, Nemanja Nikolic 'sure' he will regain scoring touch

Despite scoring drought, Nemanja Nikolic 'sure' he will regain scoring touch

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.”

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

After failing to qualify to play in this summer’s World Cup, the United States’ pain was alleviated on Wednesday morning after earning a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

But why is this bittersweet for Chicagoans?

Even though the World Cup will be hosted by the U.S., Mexico and Canada in eight years, matches will not be played in Chicago.

The city chose not to be one of the potential hosts of the world’s largest sporting event, despite using Soldier Field as a venue for the 1994 World Cup.

One of the reasons could be the low seating capacity of Chicago’s historic stadium. Soldier Field would be the second smallest spot out of any World Cup host option, seating only 61,500. The massive competition also draws enormous crowds, possibly causing logistical concerns for a highly-populated place like Chicago.

Ten out of 17 different cities in the United States will be gifted the opportunity to host 2026 World Cup games. The list includes Cincinnati (Paul Brown Stadium), Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium) and Nashville (Nissan Stadium), which are the closest domestic locations to Chicago.

The bright side is that fans from the Midwest won’t have to travel very far to see a match. For bigtime soccer fans in the Chicago area, having the chance to attend world-class matches in United States could be exciting enough.

Out of the 80 games taking place in 2026, 60 of them will be located in the United States.

Can this bid with Mexico and Canada at least help the relevancy of U.S. Soccer in the Chicago area?

The U.S. men’s national team missed this year’s World Cup at a very unideal time, just when it seemed like the sport of soccer was gaining more and more popularity in the United States.

Plus, the United States might not even get an automatic bid to play in their own World Cup as hosts.

But becoming a member of the first trio in FIFA history to host the World Cup, coupled with the expanded 48-team field in 2026, could help the United States retain the fans they have across the nation and around Chicago.

The World Cup might not be coming to the Windy City, but Chicagoans will still have something to be excited about in 2026 with games being played right around the corner. If the U.S. can qualify for the upcoming World Cups, having the tournament in North America will be much sweeter.

Until then, the 2018 World Cup kicks off this Thursday night in Russia.

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

portillos.jpg
@JTHAZZARD

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

Portillo's has become a staple in the Chicagoland area due to its popular hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches and now, its soccer jerseys.

OK, maybe one of these does not belong with the others. Regardless, Twitter user @JTHazzard created mock-up soccer jerseys mashing MLS teams and restaurants based in that team's city, and the Portillo's jersey is sweet. 

From the Portillo's logo taking center-stage to the picnic blanket pattern to the discrete Chicago Fire logo, this jersey is absolutely brilliant. The only change this writer would make is including the logo below instead.

Valspar is the current sponsor featured on the Fire's uniforms. If the team ever needs a new sponsor, though, Portillo's would be an excellent replacement.