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Nicolas Gaitan shows up in crucial moments in Chicago Fire win

Apr 20, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Fire midfielder Djordje Mihailovic (14) celebrates after scoring against the Colorado Rapids on an assist from Nicolas Gaitan (20) during the second half at Bridgeview Stadium. (Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports)

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — When Nicolás Gaitán was introduced as a Chicago Fire player, coach Veljko Paunović said he is one of the best players to ever play in MLS. He hasn’t approached that level yet, but on Saturday the Argentine playmaker showed up in crucial moments, as Paunović put it.

Gaitán had two assists in the Fire’s 4-1 win against the Colorado Rapids. It was Gaitán’s first 90-minute game and he said there’s still plenty to come.

“It was a matter of getting to know everybody a little better,” Gaitán said through a translator. “I think that makes everything a whole lot easier.”

The Fire struggled to create chances in the first half with just one shot on target. Some of that is on Gaitán as the primary chance creator in the attack. He delivered in one moment though with a perfect cross from the sideline to pick out Nemanja Nikolić’s head for the opening goal.

In the second half it appeared he’d score his first MLS goal. Instead of shooting in a one-on-one spot with Rapids goalkeeper Tim Howard, Gaitán flicked the ball across goal to allow Djordje Mihailovic to finish into an open net. Gaitán almost recorded a third assist late in the game when his through ball put Amando Moreno on a breakaway, but Howard came up with a big save.

“He’s figuring out how he can fit in the team,” Paunović said. “Also, the team is figuring out how we can play with him.

“I think in the crucial moments of the game, he showed up. He gave the team what we needed, which is a pause sometimes, and also sometimes the final pass. That’s something we were missing in the past. Now we have it. We just have to take and we know he can give more. He can also give a little bit more on not only assisting, but sometimes finishing the actions. We know that he has a fantastic left foot so we’re very excited to see what else he can bring to the team.”

Gaitán didn’t have the benefit of a preseason before joining the Fire so there was rust to shake off. He also needed to regain match fitness. Throw that on top of learning new teammates in a new country and league and his inconspicuous start shouldn’t have been a surprise. Gaitán said he is still working to full strength.

“We’re always looking to improve,” Gaitán said. “Any player that knows their worth is always looking to improve and do much, much better. It helps that the team had a very, very good game as a whole. It brought out the best in me. It’s just a matter of adapting to the team and I think I’m doing a good job of doing that.”

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