Expected Goals is an advanced metric that measures how many times a team should have scored based on the quality of its chances. The statistic, by no means perfect, said the 2020 Fire should have connected for almost 39 goals to lead the Eastern Conference. Instead, they tallied just 33 times and were frequently wasteful in front of the opponent’s net.
Maybe some of that discrepancy is due to the absence of attacking midfielder Luka Stojanovic.
Signed in February, Stojanovic arrived in March just before the season was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He made his Fire debut at the MLS is Back tournament and played only 60 minutes over two games before tearing his left MCL on July 19, ending his season just as it began.
Stojanovic will be six months removed from the injury if training camp starts in January, and the 26-year-old expects to be ready to practice with the Fire as they prepare for the 2021 season. He has no physical limitations, and said if the Fire were practicing now he could take part in most of the sessions except for scrimmaging.
“My goal is to be with them on the first day,” Stojanovic said, “and hope that I can play a full season and show myself to fans, and also to myself, why I came here.”
A fully fit Stojanovic would be welcome for the Fire.
When he was acquired by the Fire, Stojanovic’s nine goals led Serbian club FK Cukaricki. His new team, meanwhile, was led by Robert Beric’s 12 goals but got precious little scoring from the rest of the lineup. Fabian Herbers was second on the team with four goals - though all came at Soldier Field - and then defender Mauricio Pineda and midfielder Przemyslaw Frankowski were next with three.
To be blunt, that isn’t enough scoring and was one of the reasons the Fire fell short of an expanded playoff format. Too many times, the Fire were overly reliant on Beric and lacked a dependable second option to concern opposing teams.
Perhaps Stojanovic, who said he likes to get into scoring positions and connect to crosses, could help add another dimension to the Fire attack in 2021.
“I know we had an OK season,” Stojanovic said. “We were unlucky in the last game, but I think we need to be more calm in the last yards of the pitch, and there we need to be clinical.”
As the Fire were reminded of, the margins in soccer are razor-thin. An extra goal here or there could have pushed them into the East’s top 10, giving them more to build on entering 2021.
Stojanovic is eager to do his part after his unfortunately brief 2020 cameo.
“For next season, I have my own goals,” Stojanovic said. “If I can also play and be good to play all the games and if I can score. If I can score maybe more than 10 goals, I think this can be fantastic.”
NOTE: The Fire traded midfielder Brandt Bronico to Charlotte FC and swapped fourth-round picks in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft. Bronico made 66 appearances in four seasons with the Fire.