After a long courting process and a few weeks of training with the Fire before he could play, Michael de Leeuw is set to make his Fire debut on Saturday.
The Dutch forward became eligible once Major League Soccer’s summer transfer window opened on the Fourth of July. Now de Leeuw can join the Fire attack for the match in Toronto.
“I’m excited,” de Leeuw said after training on Wednesday. “This is what the last weeks I trained for. I knew that after Fourth of July I was capable of playing so now I’m available and I hope to make some minutes Saturday and show my skills to MLS.”
The 29-year-old has been training with the Fire since the middle of June, but has been forced to watch the team’s past five matches. He said this week’s training has been different for him because he knows he can suit up to play the next match.
“That’s frustrating, but I knew it before I signed,” de Leeuw said. “So I knew how it was, but still it’s frustrating because you trained the whole week before you prepare for the game. If you can’t play then you train different. This week was different. I know I can play so I want to give a hope Saturday that I can play and give everything for the team.”
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Coach Veljko Paunovic said on Tuesday that de Leeuw will be in the team’s roster, but wouldn’t give a clue as to how much de Leeuw will play or how he will be used. Will he start? Will he come off the bench? How will he line up in the Fire’s formation?
“We are working on that,” Paunovic said. “It is good for us to have options and for sure we will use all our resources offensively in order to improve our performance in attack.”
The bigger question in the long-run will be how de Leeuw fits in tactically. The team is as healthy as it has been all season with every player expected to be available in Toronto.
David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike are the two other forwards on the roster. Neither is a true hold-up type forward and Accam is more of a winger. If you ask de Leeuw he will say he isn’t either. In his introductory press conference he described himself as a cross between a playmaker and a true striker.
Does that mean de Leeuw will slide somewhat underneath Igboananike with Accam still playing wide? Will Igboananike go the bench to make way for de Leeuw? That may not be answered even on Saturday with de Leeuw probably not at full match fitness.
“I don’t know, that’s a decision the trainer has to make,” de Leeuw said. “I think I always can play so for me it’s no problem, but that’s a choice the trainer has to make, not me.”
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As for de Leeuw’s off the field adjustment, he has an apartment in Chicago and is settling into the city. He also spent the Fourth of July with Dutch teammates John Goossens and Johan Kappelhof.
“Me and my girlfriend went to the beach,” de Leeuw said. “After that we went shopping in the city and then with Johan and John we watched the fireworks with their families.”
Fire fans will be hoping de Leeuw can create some fireworks of his own on the field starting Saturday.