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Chicago Fire return from break with comfortable win against Orlando

Sep 16, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic (23) reacts after scoring a goal against Orlando City during the second half at Bridgeview Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — The Chicago Fire went into a long stretch without a competitive match on a nine-match winless streak, but came out of the break with the most lopsided win of the season.

The Fire routed visiting Orlando City 4-0. Nemanja Nikolic got the scoring going in the third minute and the Fire didn’t led up. Aleksandar Katai and Michael de Leeuw also scored and Nikolic later added his second goal of the game.

The Fire hadn’t played an MLS match in 24 days. The team went to Munich for Bastian Schweinsteiger’s testimonial match in the time off. Maybe the break was helpful for the Fire.

“Yeah, of course. More mentally than physically,” Nikolic said. “We needed to go a little bit from this dressing room, from this place, just to be all together a couple days in Munich, which I think helped us a lot.”

Playing a struggling opponent helps as well. Orlando turnovers directly led to two of the goals.

Lions coach James O’Connor bemoaned his team’s lack of energy.

“I think when you look at the energy levels, there was certainly a lack of energy and a lack of commitment,” O’Connor said. “Then when you look at the goals we’d give them. Three of the four goals were really, really poor. At any level you give away three goals like that it makes it impossible to expect to get anything in the game.”

A win didn’t do much to change the Fire’s bleak playoff hopes, but as midfielder Dax McCarty put it last week, the team is playing for their jobs. The Fire looked like it on Sunday.

Both teams entered the match with 24 points, tied for the fewest in the Eastern Conference. Even with the win the Fire are 12 points out of a playoff spot with six matches remaining.

Despite the team’s place in the table, Fire coach Veljko Paunović said the group had its best week of training after returning from Germany.

“After the game in Munich we did what we had to do,” Paunović said. “There was an adjustment of attitude and an adjustments of things that we had to do.”

The Fire scored four goals in an MLS match for the first time this season. It was also the first shutout since May 9.

Was the break the reason the Fire played so well on Sunday?

“We win 4-0 so maybe it was, but I think the break was good,” de Leeuw said. “We had a good time in Munich and we won 4-0 so in the end I think it was good.”

De Leeuw’s goal was his first of the season after missing most of the season while recovering from a torn ACL. De Leeuw also had two assists. Djordje Mihailovic, who was on a similar recovery timeline on his own torn ACL, had two assists.

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