Chicago Fire vs. Atlanta United | 2017 MLS Match Preview
When the Chicago Fire and Atlanta United FC last played each other, on Mar. 18, the result was an emphatic 4-0 victory for the 2017 MLS expansion team. Of course, the win came with Chicago forced to play with 10 men for most of the game after Johan Kappelhof picked up a red card in the 11th minute.
But the narratives have largely changed for the two teams since that initial meeting. The Fire have found cohesion between the many new additions to the squad and the momentous signing of Bastian Schweinsteiger, and have gone from perpetual Eastern Conference doormats to second place at this point in the season. And while Atlanta United are still performing pretty well for an expansion team, they are below the red line in the East and are looking for a consistent run to pick up plenty of points in a hurry.
Will the Fire get a measure of revenge on Atlanta for the earlier game? The trends seem to indicate it's a likely bet.
Speaking of red cards, the Fire endured a tricky match on Sunday in Florida, drawing 0-0 with Orlando City. The only problem was that the Fire had a one- and then two-man advantage in the game and struggled to capitalize, hitting 21 shots but just six on target and none into the net.
“I’m disappointed because we had to convert the two-men-up advantage we had during most of the game," Chicago head coach Veljko Paunovic said after the game. "It was okay to control the game, but it’s not enough."
Paunovic referenced the team's turnaround this season, but warned the performance in Orlando was too reminiscent of Fire performances in recent years.
"We have to understand that we are not the team that we were in the past. We are a team that could control the game and dictate the game. And it’s not enough to get the point, especially in a game like this. So I’m not happy with that. I am not happy with that mentality. We were just fine. I didn’t see the hunger in the final third."
On the bright side, the Fire are in good form at the moment overall, six games unbeaten, and after a weekend in which home field advantage was absolutely massive around MLS, coming home could give them the extra push they need to pick up points.
- Suspended: None
- Int’l Absences: Dax McCarty (USA)
- Injury Report: OUT: M John Goossens (right ankle surgery)
Projected Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Matt Lampson - Drew Conner, Johan Kappelhof, Joao Meira, Brandon Vincent - Bastian Schweinsteiger, Juninho - Luis Solignac, Michael de Leeuw, David Accam - Nemanja Nikolic
Notes: Chicago are unbeaten in 10 straight home matches (7W-3D) including five consecutive wins. The last time the Fire won more than five consecutive home games was a seven-game run from July 14 to Setember 22, 2012...There have been 30 instances of a team receiving two red cards in the same MLS match in since the start of the 2010 regular season. Chicago’s failure to score last week was just the third time in those 30 instances that a team playing two men up failed to score a single goal.
Atlanta United FC
The talking point coming out of Atlanta United's last game, a 3-1 road loss to Vancouver Whitecaps FC, was set piece defending. All three goals scored by the 'Caps were off set pieces, a fault that if not checked over several games can become catastrophic for a team's season.
Atlanta prepared for Vancouver's set-piece prowess during the week, according to defender Greg Garza.
"We probably went through about 15 different videos this week about how well they are on free kicks, but I just don’t know what happened to us. We just couldn’t execute defensively, and it’s very unfortunate for us to really give up those three goals."
Added captain Michael Parkhurst: "Obviously we paid the price, we gave up too many set pieces to him, too many corners, too many opportunities to them. We knew that was a strength for them and a weakness for us and we got punished today.”
And while Chicago have shown some ability to capitalize on set pieces, too, Atlanta coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino believed the threat posed by Vancouver is ultimately unique around the league: “There aren’t many players like [Whitecaps scorer Kendall] Waston in the league. Waston is a player that causes problems for a lot of teams, not just Atlanta."
- Suspended: None
- Int’l Absences: Kenwyne Jones (Trinidad & Tobago)
- Injury Report: OUT: F Jacob Peterson (lower leg injury); QUESTIONABLE: F Josef Martinez (quad injury)
Projected Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Alec Kann - Tyrone Mears, Michael Parkhurst, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Greg Garza - Jeff Larentowicz, Carlos Carmona - Julian Gressel, Miguel Almiron, Yamil Asad - Hector Villalba
Notes: In 968 minutes with Julian Gressel on the field this year, Atlanta average 2.3 goals and 1.3 goals conceded per 90 minutes played. In the 274 minutes without Gressel on the field, those numbers change to 1.0 goals scored and 2.0 goals conceded per 90 minutes played...Despite having only won two of their eight MLS road games (3L-3D), Atlanta United are one of six teams in MLS averaging more than 1.0 ppg in away matches this season.
Atlanta won the only other competitive meeting between the teams, on Mar. 18.
- Overall: Chicago 0 wins (0 goals), Atlanta 1 win (4 goals), 0 draws
- At Chicago: First meeting between teams
Referee: Alan Kelly
Assistant Referees: Jeffrey Greeson, Anthony Vasoli
Fourth Official: Hilario Grajeda