de leeuw celebration

Michael de Leeuw's impact goes well beyond scoresheet in 2017

For Michael de Leeuw, there's nothing dirty about "dirty work," of which he's done his fair share through the first half of the 2017 season.

"For me, it means just work," he said after training Wednesday. "Working for the team. Running the dirty runs for each other...winning balls for the team so that we have possession. We don't have to run the transition in defense. That, for me, is the dirty work. For me, it's natural."

Through his 15 games played, the Dutchman has endured a shift away from his regular deployment at or near the point of the attack in favor of a role on the right side of the midfield, where he's had to adapt on the fly to a new set of offensive and defensive responsibilities.

After an initial adjustment period, de Leeuw has thrived. His willingness to do that "dirty work" on both defense and in transition to attack have been nothing short of crucial to the Fire's current run of form and second place position in the Supporters' Shield standings.

"I know that's frustrating for him because he's a striker and he want to score goals, but the other things that he brings to the team are invaluable," said midfielder Dax McCarty, who might be considered something of an expert on the topic. "Those are things that you can't teach. That's commitment, heart, the willingness to press the other team, the willingness to do the dirty work for everyone else on the field."

So, while that "dirty work" doesn't show up in a post-match box score, digging into his more advanced stats help partly quantify the impact de Leeuw has made so far this season (courtesy of Opta).

2016 18 2 75.76 16 17 60 18 62
2017 15 4 75.34 28 16 65 11 50

The Opta numbers show that de Leeuw been able to take on his new assignment with aplomb, winning both fouls and 50/50 challenges at a much higher clip than last season. The Fire as a whole have shown more of both an ability and a preference to keep possession this year than in years past, and de Leeuw's ability to help keep the ball has been a part of that.

"That's the nature," de Leeuw said. "I want to win every ball. Also in training. I always go 100% for every ball. It doesn't matter where the ball is, 50/50, I always go 100%. I want that ball. It's important to win those balls to hold it and to have more energy for offense."

"Sometimes, it feels like Michael's playing five different positions on the field because of how much running he does and how much ground he covers, and that's something that you can't teach," McCarty added. "He's been very important for us. He's a guy that as a teammate you just want to have him on the field. You're not only going to get work rate, but you're going to get quality as well."

Second, his assist total this season doubles his production from his debut 18 matches with the club following his arrival last summer. This season's haul includes the key touch in Luis Solignac's game-winning goal from Saturday's 2-1 road victory in New England, as well as a pair of assists in the team's 4-1 national television romp over the defending MLS Champion Seattle Sounders.

So, while de Leeuw's instincts as a striker keep him hungry for his first goal of the season, he's both conscious of and willing to continue his efforts benefitting the team as whole.

"It's still disappointing for me that I'm still at zero, because I feel I had at least three or four (opportunities for) goals," he said. "But for my feeling, the team needs me and what I'm doing right now, because at this moment, the puzzle is complete."

The Fire resume MLS play Saturday night with a visit from Orlando City SC (7:30 pm CT, CSN Chicago | TICKETS).