Michael de Leeuw

As expected, Michael de Leeuw's debut in a Chicago Fire shirt Saturday night offered a glimpse of the attacking skill-set that many months ago made him a target of GM Nelson Rodríguez and head coach Veljko Paunovic. 


But also on display during de Leeuw's 45-minute shift was a fiery spirit and competitiveness possessed by many a great goal-scorer. 


Available for selection for the first time since his signing was announced back on May 17, de Leeuw replaced Michael Stephens at halftime of Chicago's visit to Toronto FC, looking to help his new side find a second-half equalizer.


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Just two minutes after coming on, de Leeuw's movement off the ball helped create one of the Fire's best chances to that point, as the Dutchman called for a through-ball by Khaly Thiam that ran just beyond de Leeuw's reach. 

Late on in the match, de Leeuw's timely, instinctive runs nearly generated the Fire's sought-after equalizer -- first on a darting move into space to find Kennedy Igboananike's service, and two minutes later on a near-post run in an effort to step in front of Toronto FC GK Alex Bono as he awaited Arturo Alvarez' cross.


The finishing touch was lacking on both occasions and the Fire ultimately were denied a result as TFC held on for a 1-0 victory. But those plays and others like them provided a blueprint for the new element de Leeuw brings to an attack that retains the speed and service brought by Igboananike, David Accam, and John Goossens, among others. 

Playing in his first competitive match since mid-May, de Leeuw was engaged and willing to battle for his teammates, from an early scuffle with TFC defender Drew Moor to his own self-rebukes when he felt he should have done better. While Johan Kappelhof, de Leeuw's former teammate at Dutch Eredivisie side FC Groningen, has brought a stoic, even temperament to the Fire back line, de Leeuw's debut hinted at a fervent, demonstrative on-field persona for the 29-year-old. 


“It’s a little bit similar," de Leeuw said when sizing up his new surroundings to prior playing experience. "They want to be quicker to the goal. It’s similar but it’s harder. You have to find your way and just play. I think for the first time I had a chance. It would have been a great debut if I had scored but it was okay.”


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For Paunovic, it was an auspicious inaugural performance for de Leeuw, who completed eight of 11 passes with one key pass to his credit.


“I think Michael came fresh in the game, first game, he adjusted very well to the pace and demands for this league," he said. "I think he’s building the trust now with the teammates and connections. We could see his was very dynamic in the box, very dangerous. We expect him to overall improve our performance in the attack and score goals; no pressure, he knows what is expected.”


The Dutchman was similarly blunt in summarizing the night's events, which saw Chicago miss an opportunity to quickly climb back into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff conversation. 


"I came here for three points and a win," he said, "and we didn’t do it.”