Fire face tough task in trying to replace key forward
Chicago Fire fans are about to learn the hard way just how important Michael de Leeuw has been to the team's rise this season.
The 30-year-old Dutch forward/midfielder was lost for the season when he suffered a ruptured ACL in the first half of Saturday's 1-1 draw against New York City FC. But it's not just his 3 goals and 8 assists the Fire will miss, or the effort he supplied at the top of the Fire's high press defensively.
De Leeuw clearly was one of the most popular players among his teammates, who recognized the work he did that didn't generate headlines.
"It's difficult," David Accam said after training Tuesday. "We know what de Leeuw brings to the team. He works hard, energy. We're going to miss his presence in the team, but I think we have enough quality to fill in his loss."
"Oh, it's hard," midfielder Djordje Mihailovic added. "He's a key role, a key player for us, but we'll make it work."
Fire coach Veljko Paunovic clearly was upset about de Leeuw's injury.
"At halftime when the doctors came with pallid faces, it was just telling us they were expecting the worst," Paunovic said. "It was tough in that moment, and I think we have to manage that better because it impacted me and it impacted the locker room. And then second half we lost the emotion (on the field)."
Paunovic added that he is "100 percent certain we would have won the game" if not for the de Leeuw injury.
Paunovic said de Leeuw has found it hard to keep his spirits up in the days since the injury.
"It was very tough for me to talk with him and listen to how he was feeling," the coach said. "But then (Monday) he told me that he kind of accepted everything that he went through. And then (Tuesday) morning I had a conversation with him and he said, I was complaining sitting on a treatment table and in my head complaining why this happened to me. And then I looked at (teammate John Goossens, out since the season opener with an ankle injury), he's eight months out. And he said, well, I don't have a right to complain."
Who will fill the void on the field?
Veteran midfielder Arturo Alvarez figures to get increased playing time, as could Drew Conner and Mihailovic, whose playing time would have been curtailed with Bastian Schweinsteiger returning from a leg injury.
"It's important for the team to have a guy with that personality and that ethic on the field and off the field," Paunovic said.
More injury news:
Midfielder/forward David Accam was obviously not at full strength when he entered the game for de Leeuw on Saturday. He has accepted that this is the way it's going to be for him the rest of the season.
Accam plans to have surgery on his injured hip after the season.
"We're doing everything possible with painkillers, rest and hopefully I can finish the season before I have my surgery," Accam said, noting he's been dealing with this injury for six months, but it's been especially painful the past two weeks.
For Accam, having this weekend off for the World Cup qualifiers comes at a good time.
No big deal:
Lemont native Djordje Mihailovic scored his first MLS goal last Wednesday at San Jose and was named to the league team of the week. But the 18-year-old midfielder is taking it all in stride.
"As long as I'm helping the team win and reach the playoffs, that's the biggest thing that I've accomplished," Mihailovic said.
Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson last week celebrated his 10th anniversary of being declared cancer-free.
"Obviously, 10 years is a big milestone," said the 28-year-old Lampson, whose Lampstrong foundation has been very active in supporting the fight against cancer in the Chicago area. "Every year that I have that I get to spend on this Earth is a good one. I'm very grateful to be here. I'm grateful to be doing what I love for a living. I'm hoping that I don't have to celebrate any more anniversaries other than that one.
"It's a pretty surreal feeling. Kind of bittersweet because you always remember what you had to go through to achieve it, but it was nice."
Fire supporters are throwing the team a party for the club's 20th anniversary. The celebration will be held Sunday night at the Chicago Cultural Center downtown.
Many former players and coaches have committed to attend, including Bob Bradley, Hristo Stoichkov and Frank Klopas. Current players and coaches also have been invited.
Tickets are still available at s8c.org.