Fire try to stop massive slide against Impact (Sep 02, 2017)

BY AP • September 1, 2017

It's not panic time in Chicago.

Not yet.

Two months ago, the Fire sat atop the MLS Eastern Conference standings and were riding an 11-game unbeaten streak.

Now Chicago (12-9-5), which faces the Impact on Saturday at Stade Saputo in Montreal, has won just one of its past eight games and sits in fourth place, five points clear of seventh-place Montreal.

The Impact's fortunes have taken a different trajectory.

While Montreal (10-9-6) is also coming off a loss -- 3-1 to Toronto, which is running away with the Eastern Conference. It followed four straight wins, including a 3-0 victory over the Fire on Aug. 16.

The Impact are level with sixth-place Atlanta United at 36 points but trail in goal differential (12-1).

The Fire have been hurt by Nemanja Nikolic's two-month scoring drought.

When Nikolic scored his 15th and 16th goals on July 1, he was on pace to break the league's season scoring record. He hasn't found the back of the net since.

"Of course, it's not good when a striker has bad moments in his career, but it's also our life," Nikolic said after practice on Tuesday, according to CSN Chicago. "We need to know how to live in this, we need to know how to handle this kind of pressure.

"In the beginning, everything was great. I scored a lot of goals. Now I have some bad momentum, but I don't focus on these kinds of things. I just think how to finish these kinds of situations and I am sure that I will score the goals like in the beginning of the season."

While Nikolic attempted four shots in the Fire's 2-1 loss on Aug. 25 to Minnesota -- the Wild's first road win of the season -- the striker had just five in the previous four games.

Chicago is 2-8-4 this season when Nikolic fails to score.

"For sure, the team needs my goals," Nikolic said. "Everybody has responsibility in this, but the strikers are always on the top end. Their job is to score goals and help the team to come out from this kind of situation. I will take responsibility on me and I will help the team I hope with my goals to come out from this."

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic hasn't lost faith.

"He's practicing and working on that," Paunovic said. "That's the only thing you can do. You can get back to the fundamentals, the simple things, get sharp, focused and getting back to the winning track needs work and belief so I think that's what he's doing now and everyone else. We'll fix it."

Montreal is playing its fourth straight home game and has a chance to leap over idle Atlanta in the standings this weekend.

Ignacio Piatti scored his team-leading 15th goal in the Impact's loss to Toronto. He was named MLS Player of the Month for August.

"We have games in hand on the teams we're chasing and if we take care of business the way we need to, we'll be in the playoffs," Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush said, according to The Globe and Mail newspaper. "We can't look ahead to playing these guys again. We have to concentrate on the next game."

The Impact will hit the road on Sept. 9 to face the New England Revolution.

The Fire host the New York Red Bulls the same day.

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