Nemanja Nikolic gets a major honor as Fire prepare for the playoffs

BRIDGEVIEW, IL - AUGUST 26: Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic (23) takes a shot at goal during the match between the Minnesota United FC and the Chicago Fire on August 26, 2017 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CHICAGO – It wasn’t the dream ending that perhaps he or his teammates envisioned to a breakthrough season.

On the road in the Major League Soccer finale against the Dynamo in Houston, the Fire were shutdown by the hosts 3-0 on a sunny afternoon in Texas. They were scored on just two minutes into the game and never mounted a true offensive as their regular season ended with a defeat.

But that wasn’t going to put a damper on the campaign for Veljko Paunovich’s team or for arguably their best player on the field – and one of the best in the MLS as well. For their efforts since this spring have paid major dividens come the late fall.

For the first time since 2012, the Fire are headed to the playoffs as the team snapped their five-year postseason drought. Their 55 points earned them a third place finish in the MLS’ Eastern Conference and the chance to host a playoff game at Toyota Park, which they’ll do in the knockout round this Wednesday at 7:30 PM against the New York Red Bulls.

Meanwhile the franchise also picked up a first thanks to Nemaja Nikolic, who won the MLS’ Golden Boot Award for leading goal scorer in the regular season.

The striker finished the season with 24, most in franchise history as he broke the previous record of 18 held by Ante Razov in 2000. Nikolic’s total was two better than David Villa of New York City Football Club as he finished with 22 scores on the season. The Golden Boot has been awarded by the MLS to it’s leading scorer since the 2005 season.