Nikolic Hat Trick Has Fire Closer to Home Playoff Game

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BRIDGEVIEW, IL–Until Sunday, the Fire had not won a match this season when they were in a trailing position at any time during the match, that duck was broken courtesy of Nemanja Nikolic whose hat trick gave the Fire a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Union. With results elsewhere, the Fire are just one point behind second place NYCFC (2-1 losers in New England), one point ahead of Atlanta (0-0 draw at NY Red Bulls) in fourth, and two points clear of Columbus (1-0 winners in Orlando) in fifth.

The announced attendance for the regular season finale was 17,616 which gives the Fire an average of 17,383 for the season—an 11.4% increase from last season.

Nikolic got things started early in the third minute after collecting a long ball from Brandon Vincent and then beating Andre Blake far post. Nikolic celebrated by holding Michael de Leeuw’s #8 shirt in the air. De Leeuw was lost for the season two weeks ago with a ruptured ACL.

“This goal was for him, just to show him that we love him and we wait for him to get back,” said Nikolic. He’s a really important part of this team, the real fighter, the real teammate. He helped me a lot from my first day that I came here. When I had bad momentum, he was close to me, gave me advice sometimes, it’s helped me. It’s good when you have someone, a player who plays in a similar position like you but he wants to help you. He’s a real sportsman and he will have surgery I think in next week or two weeks. We wish him all the best and we wait for him to come back, he knows this. I just want to show the players, club, supporters, everybody is behind him.”

However, the joy would be short-lived. Three minutes later, CJ Sapong’s set-up went past Matt Lampson who came to challenge and was accidentally tapped in by Johan Kappelhof for an own goal. In the 13th minute, Lampson again came off his line to challenge and again was unsuccessful as Alejandro Bedoya was able to chip past to give the Union the lead.

David Accam came on in the second half and would make quite the impact. Accam drew a penalty in the 64th minute after being taken down by Jack Elliott in the box. Nikolic would convert the spot kick to pull the Fire level.

Then in the 78th minute, Accam sent a ball to Brandon Vincent who then sent a low cross to Nikolic for the hat trick and league-leading 24th goal of the season. The Fire held on for the three points and ever closer to having a home playoff game.

Accam had originally planned to play for 30 minutes as he was carrying hip pain.

“During this week, that’s what I’ve been telling Pauno, try to come in,” said Accam. “I was planning to play 30 minutes but he told me I should get ready, the team might need me and it needs my energy and what I can bring to the team. I knew in my mind that they were going to need me anytime, so I was just ready.”

Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic hailed his team’s attitude after an ‘unacceptable’ first half.

“I think the whole game, the whole second half, that’s the performance we needed,” said Paunovic. “We are proud of the character that we showed. The reaction was good in the second half. Obviously, two different parts of the game. First half after the third minute, we had, we actually thought that the game for us was over and that’s unacceptable. We cannot ever again have that performance or that mindset.

“All the games we have to play until the end just like we saw and we showed in the second half, that’s the real Chicago Fire that we are proud of. We are building good momentum. When I look back, I think this is the first time we can bounce back from the negative result and that’s encouraging. That’s what this team needed to see and have happen and we are focused on the next game.”

That next game on Decision Day at at Houston at 3pm on NBC Sports Chicago Plus, next Sunday. The Fire can clinch a home playoff match with a win or if either Atlanta or Columbus fail to win next Sunday. A first round bye is their if they win and NYCFC fails to defeat Columbus. It’s still all to play for next Sunday.

SCORING SUMMARY:
CHI-Nemanja Nikolic (Vincent) 3
PHI-Johan Kappelhof (own goal) 6
PHI-Alejandro Bedoya (Medunjanin) 13
CHI-Nemanja Nikolic (penalty kick) 64
CHI-Nemanja Nikolic (Vincent, Accam) 78

BOOKING SUMMARY:
CHI-Matt Polster (caution, reckless tackle) 45+1

CHICAGO FIRE (4-2-3-1): #28-Matt Lampson; #2-Matt Polster, #4-Johan Kappelhof, #66-Joao Meira, #3-Brandon Vincent; #18-Drew Conner (#11-David Accam 46), #6-Dax McCarty; #12-Arturo Alvarez, #14-Djordje Mihailovic, #9-Luis Solignac; #23-Nemanja Nikolic (#10-David Arshakyan 90+1)

Subs not used: #45-Richard Sanchez, #5-Michael Harrington, #16-Jonathan Campbell, #22-Patrick Doody, #13-Brandt Bronico

PHILADELPHIA UNION (4-2-3-1): #18-Andre Blake; #28-Raymon Gaddis, #3-Jack Elliott (#27-Jay Simpson 90), #16-Richie Marquez, #33-Fabinho; #11-Alejandro Bedoya, #6-Haris Medunjanin; #13-Chris Pontius (#20-Marcus Epps 75), #25-Ilsinho, #22-Fabrice-Jean Picault (#10-Roland Alberg 83); #17-CJ Sapong

Subs not used: #23-John McCarthy, #5-Oguchi Onyewu, #12-Keegan Rosenberry, #21-Derrick Jones

TOTAL SHOTS: CHI 10-8 PHI
SHOTS ON GOAL: CHI 4-2 PHI
FOULS: CHI 10-12 PHI
OFFSIDES: CHI 1-0 PHI
CORNER KICKS: CHI 5-3 PHI
SAVES: CHI 1-1 PHI

Referee: Allen Chapman
Assistant Referees: Peter Balciunas, Nick Uranga
4th Official: Marcos De Oliveira
Video Assistant Referee: Luis Guardia
Weather: Cloudy and 53º
Attendance: 17,616
Man of the Match: Nemanja Nikolic (CHI)
Sunday, October 15, 2017

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