Nemanja Nikolic stood in front of his locker Sunday night after scoring three times in the Chicago Fire's 3-2 victory and was jokingly asked, what's new?
"For you?" the Serbia-born Nikolic asked, then referred to his hat trick, "because for me is not."
The 29-year-old striker got used to scoring a lot of goals in Hungary and Poland before signing with the Fire last winter. That hasn't changed in MLS, with Nikolic proving to be one of the best off-season signings in the league this year.
Like his team, Nikolic struggled in July and August after a great first couple of months. But he and the Fire have both played better in September and October, with Nikolic taking a 3-goal lead in the league Golden Boot race going into the final game of the season.
"I think it's important for every striker to win this," Nikolic said of the Golden Boot. "This is our job. We need to do this every week. The season is really long, so up-and-down situations you look at always. The important thing is how you come out from the bad momentum and also how you will train when you have good momentum."
Remembering de Leeuw:
After his first goal Sunday, Nemanja Nikolic ran to the Fire bench, where he was handed teammate Michael de Leeuw's jersey and held it high. The popular, hardworking de Leeuw ruptured an ACL in a game two weeks ago and was lost for the season.
"This goal was for him, just to show him that we love him and we want him back," said Nikolic, whose English keeps improving. "He's really important part of this team.
"The real fighter, the real teammate. He helped me a lot from my first day when I came here. When I have bad momentum, he was close to me, give me advice sometimes. It's helped me."
Picking up his teammates:
Nemanja Nikolic scored the first goal of Sunday's game, but the Fire quickly found itself trailing 2-1 after some less-than-stellar defensive play. Nikolic added 2 more goals in the second half to help the Fire pull out a critical win.
"Credit to Niko, because he bailed us out," goalkeeper Matt Lampson said. "He bailed me out in particular. But that's why it's a team game, and we showed heart today."
The MLS record for goals in a season is 27, held by three players. Nemanja Nikolic needs another hat trick Sunday at Houston to equal it.
"Whoo," Nikolic said. "Last couple of months everybody speak about this. Now in the last period I think lot of people was not sure I can achieve this, what I achieve until now.
"Yeah, 3 goals, it's too much and also it's also close, but I think that it will be really important to win against Houston. If need to be 1-0, OK."