Scouting Report – Chicago Fire

Atlanta United (6-1-1) are looking to extend their unbeaten streak to eight as they take on the Chicago Fire (2-3-2) on Saturday night. Last season the two clubs split results, both taking three points at their home venue. This year, Atlanta will hope to flip the script in the Windy City and continue to show why they are one of the top sides in the league in just their second season in MLS. Everyone knows World Cup Champion Bastian Schweinsteiger, but here’s what other firepower Five Stripes fans can expect from the Fire this weekend:

The Poacher

Behind Toronto and Atlanta, Chicago scored the 3rd-most goals in the league last season, and many of them came from their Hungarian striker, Nemanja Nikolić. The 2017 Golden Boot Winner had quite the opening season in MLS, bagging 24 goals and leading the Fire to the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012. He's off to another sizzling start this season with five goals in just seven games. When you watch his highlight reel, it’s not his mazy runs on the ball but rather his movement off of it that is so impressive. Nikolic can score in a number of ways, finding space behind, latching onto the end of a cross, forcing a defensive mistake or just being in the right place at the right time. But it all starts with his elite movement and awareness in the final third, so Atlanta will want to track his whereabouts at all times.

The Creator

With the departure of their primary playmaker in David Accam over the offseason, Chicago needed to find a creative replacement and that was Veljko Paunovic’s intention with the signing of Aleksandar Katai. The Serbian international was a late addition, joining the Fire in February just a month before the start of the regular season. So while Katai hasn’t had much time with the team or dominated the scoresheet just yet, he’s shown plenty signs of promise. His poise on the ball, clever passing, fearlessness and nose for goal adds a new dynamic to a Chicago side who had a great season but came up short in the MLS Cup Playoffs last year. And if his potential goal of the year nominee strike against the New York Red Bulls is any indication of what’s to come from the Serbian, Fire fans have much to look forward to.

The Cog

If Nikolić and Katai are the European class, Dax McCarty is the American muscle. The U.S. international and long-time Red Bulls player made his way to Chicago last season and he’s been exactly the midfield cog they hoped for. Despite being 31 years of age, McCarty still embodies the “#8” any team would want, a slick passer, a box-to-box bulldog for 90 minutes and a strong, vocal leader in the center of the park. And while he’s yet to score or record an assist this season, there’s a reason the midfielder has 19 goals and 51 assists in his MLS career and is respected as one of the best complete midfielders in the league. McCarty is often the key to their success on both sides of the ball, whether it’s organizing his team defensively or springing a counter attack, so Atlanta will want to shut him out of the game as much as possible.

Follow Along

This weekend’s match kicks off at 8:30 p.m. EST on Saturday, May 5th, and will be broadcast on FOX Sports Southeast. Click here for everything you need to know about how to follow along from home.