The moment is finally near for newest Chicago Fire signing Michael de Leeuw.
On Saturday night when the Fire visit BMO Field for a road test against Toronto FC (CSN Chicago, 6:30 p.m. CT), de Leeuw will be eligible for selection to head coach Veljko Paunovic’s squad for the first time.
“I’m excited,” he said. “This is what over the last weeks I have trained for. I knew that after the Fourth of July that I was capable of playing. Now I’m available and I hope to get on Saturday some minutes and show my skills to MLS.”
The 29-year-old forward – whose surname means “Lion” in Dutch -- arrived in Chicago in early June after signing with the team on May 17. His last month has been spent training alongside the team in anticipation for an early July debut, when the summer transfer window officially opened. While he’s been focused on his preparation for the Fire’s heavy July schedule, de Leeuw noted that it hasn’t been easy to sit out of the team while he’s waited to become eligible.
“Yeah it’s frustrating,” he said. “I knew (about the wait) before I signed, so I knew how it was. Still, it’s frustrating because you train for the whole week, you prepare for the game and if you can’t play, then you train different. Now this week was different. Now I know I can play, so I hope Saturday I can play and give everything for the team.”
According to Paunovic, de Leeuw has been put through a well-regimented and personalized “preseason” training regimen over the last five weeks to get him fit for MLS play. The Fire have played five matches since he arrived in the States, which has given him plenty of opportunities to get a feel for his new team ahead of joining them on the field.
“I noticed that the confidence is building,” he said. “The last two games we won. We played good, we created chances, and that’s the most important thing. (It’s also important) of course to score the chances, because then you can win. I feel a lot of confidence. We have a good group.”
The Dutchman’s last competitive appearance in a match came on Sunday, May 15 in a Europa League playoff tilt between former side FC Groningen and Heracles Almelo, also of the Dutch Eredivisie. That match marked the final of 117 appearances de Leeuw made for Groningen since joining up with them in 2012. Outside of his day-to-day preparation, the wait to become eligible has provided him time to get used to his newfound surroundings.
“The first week I was jet-lagged,” he said. “I wasn’t used to the time. Now I’m living the American life. I’ve got an apartment, so it’s quiet. No stress anymore, just play football. Nothing else. Just think about football – or soccer, sorry – and rest and prepare.”
With so much time to ponder his transition into the team, the question on everyone’s mind remains. How will his skill-set blend with those of the Fire’s current roster of attackers?
“We have to see on Saturday.”