Jersey numbers can be a big deal in soccer. Who is the team's No. 10? Who is the No. 9?
Nemanja Nikolic, a forward who joined the Chicago Fire this offseason as a Designated Player, didn't have the choice of either number that is famously associated with marquee attacking players because both were taken by returning players on the Fire. Instead, he landed on a number more famous in Chicago sports than in soccer.
Nikolic will be wearing 23.
The Fire announced the jersey numbers for the 2017 season with Nikolic's 23 a part of the list. Every returning player kept the same number as last season.
It goes without saying that wearing the No. 23 in Chicago comes with an extra bit of notoriety. Ever since Michael Jordan donned the No. 23 for the Chicago Bulls, it has been a common sight to find the best player on a Chicagoland high school basketball team wearing No. 23. That doesn't translate to the world of soccer, but in Chicago fans will notice.
A spokesman for the club said the number was more coincidence than intentional MJ reference, but if Nikolic has a good season don't be surprised to see signs at Toyota Park referencing Nikolic's jersey number.
In the preseason some of the players have been wearing different jersey numbers from what they will in the regular season. Nikolic has been wearing No. 9 in preseason matches.
Here is a list of the other newcomers and the numbers they will be wearing:
Jorge Bava: 1
Dax McCarty: 6
Djordje Mihailovic: 14
Daniel Johnson: 20
Stefan Cleveland: 30
Preseason wins don't necessarily translate to regular season wins, but the Chicago Fire haven't had much trouble racking up February wins in Florida.
The Fire made it 4-for-4 in the preseason with a 5-2 win against North American Soccer League foe Miami FC from the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., on Sunday.
The game featured some aesthetically pleasing goals, but the opener was a reminder that it's preseason and the players aren't in midseason form yet. A back pass from a Miami defender turned into a through ball for Luis Solignac. Solignac took the gift and scored uncontested with a slotted shot in the box in the third minute.
Miami evened things up in the 38th minute when Dylan Mares was left open on the left side of the box and scored with a low shot.
The Fire regained the lead with a penalty kick a few minutes later. A Brandon Vincent cross resulted in a handball in the box and John Goossens rifled the penalty into the upper 90.
Trialist Taylor Peay got the start at right back, his first appearance of the preseason. Three draft picks, Daniel Johnson, Brandt Bronico and Matej Dekovic, also started.
In the second half the Fire went with an entirely different lineup and the attack livened up. Arturo Alvarez kicked things off by cutting in to his left foot and scoring with a shot into the side netting in the 49th minute. A few minutes later the Fire piled on the pressure with David Accam getting free from his man and then setting up Nemanja Nikolic, whose shot was saved onto the post and back into play. The Fire came right back with a long shot from Juninho that forced a rebound that David Arshakyan tucked away.
The fifth goal was the best of the bunch. A 10-pass sequence with mostly one-touch passing and Drew Conner at the heart of the buildup led to Nemanja Nikolic centering a ball to David Accam, who scored into an open net.
Nikolic, Accam and Alvarez provided an immediate spark to the attack after a first half in which the Fire struggled to create chances from the run of play.
The game also featured the usage of the video replay system the league is using in select preseason matches in preparation for the system's use in the regular season. In the 71st minute the referee used the replay system to go back and call a penalty kick on a Michael Harrington foul. Goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland, drafted by the Fire in the second round in January, saved the penalty kick, but Ariel Pedro Martinez was able to score on the rebound.
In other news, goalkeeper Matt Lampson has a sprained MCL. A spokesman for the Fire said he could return for the season opener. Jorge Bava got the start on Sunday and appears to be in line to begin the season at the Fire's No. 1 keeper.
On the live stream of the match former Fire TV analyst Kevin Egan said former Newcastle United right back Ryan Taylor, 32, is expected to join the Fire in camp as a trialist shortly.
The Fire's next preseason match is against USL side FC Cincinnati on Wednesday.
See gifs of the first two Fire goals and Arshakyan's second half rebound below: