Fire seeing a big, happy change
There were a lot of happy faces at Toyota Park on Saturday night after the Chicago Fire's 4-1 victory against defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders FC on national TV.
It was a big difference from the past two seasons, when the Fire was the worst team in Major League Soccer.
"The smiles are back in Bridgeview finally," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said at his postgame news conference. "And it's not only one game. This is the general feeling that our team has, in the locker room, outside of the locker room.
"When we are downtown in the city, wherever we are, we can feel there is a passion about the team. Expectation, a powerful expectation. The people can see the results, can see great games like today, can see the overall improvement in our team."
Rating the atmosphere:
In this third year with the Fire, Matt Polster shares seniority with David Accam in the locker room. He said Saturday's capacity crowd of 20,153 was the most electric he can remember at Toyota Park.
"Yeah, I think so," he said. "I think that was the best crowd we've had here in quite some time. I think the fans are always good, but this was a different level tonight.
"It's easy when the fans are chanting and they're just cheering you on. I think it gives us an extra little bit of energy, and I think it showed tonight in the result."
Polster made his season debut Saturday following a preseason knee injury, coming off the bench in the 71st minute.
"It's taken long enough, you know, to finally get back on the pitch and run around with these guys," said Polster, a midfielder by trade who played right back against Seattle. "It's just exciting to get back on the field. I just feel like I'm finally happy now. I feel like I've worked really hard to get to this point, and I'm just happy I'm here and I'm healthy again and available to be on the field."
One plus one:
While the Fire has played better this season, Saturday's match was the first in which the team put together a good first half with a good second half.
"I think it is," he said. "I also think that every time this year, every time we meet after the game we talk. I think we always say this is the best game, this is the best game. So what I'm trying to say is that we can say that there is a consistency in improvement in our team."
Closing in on double digits:
Forward Nemanja Nikolic, a designated player, has 8 goals in his first 10 games with the Fire since arriving over the winter from Legia Warsaw in Poland.
"For me it's not something new," said Nikolic, who scored twice Saturday.
Only Mike Magee in 2013 has matched Nikolic's scoring rate in Fire history, doing it in 2013 after an early-season trade from the Los Angeles Galaxy.