Tools to the Match: How Atlanta can bring back a victory from the Windy City

Atlanta United hit the road again this weekend when they travel to the Windy City to take on Chicago Fire FC. After a 2-0 road loss at LA Galaxy last weekend, the 5-Stripes are looking to get back in the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference. This weekend could be looked at as a proverbial “six-point” match as they face Chicago who sits just two points ahead of Atlanta in the Eastern Conference standings. With 13 matches left in the regular season, Atlanta needs to start putting together results to climb up the standings. Saturday’s match will be another test against a Chicago team that has won three matches in a row. Let’s take a look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot against Chicago Fire FC.

Be switched on from the jump and take control early

Goals change games and Atlanta United has found it difficult to overcome early deficits this season. It happened once again vs. LA Galaxy, where the 5-Stripes conceded a goal in the opening 15 minutes and couldn’t overcome that. Atlanta controlled a good portion of the match against LA and created several scoring opportunities in the second half. One of the keys to success on Saturday in Chicago will be for the team to be switched on from the opening whistle and gain control of the match early on and score first.

The proof is in the numbers. When Atlanta United scores first this season, they own a 6-2-2 (W-L-T) record. The 5-Stripes have scored six goals in the first 15 minutes of matches this year, including Ronaldo Cisneros’ third minute strike in the first meeting with Chicago this year. Atlanta went on to win the match 4-1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

All eyes on Shaqiri, Czichos and surging Fire

Chicago Fire are coming into Saturday afternoon’s match on fire (pun intended) with three consecutive victories. They feature one of the league’s top chance creators in Swiss international Xherdan Shaqiri. The midfielder, who is in his first season in Chicago, is tied for seventh in the league with eight assists. His 42 key passes also lead the team by a wide margin. He orchestrates many of Chicago’s attacks and will be someone Atlanta’s defense and midfield will have to key on.

Chicago also features one of the stingier defenses in the league. One of the main changes to the team’s defense this season was the arrival of Rafael Czichos. The German centerback who arrived from Bundesliga side 1. FC Köln this season, has been a mainstay on the backline with 17 appearances. He’s scored three goals in addition to leading the team to nine clean sheets on the campaign. Atlanta United’s set piece defense will be tested once again on Saturday.

Create more high-quality chances throughout the match

If you look at Atlanta’s attack statistically, the team looks to be in good shape. They rank third in MLS in possession (57.6%), second in total shots (325) and first in key passes (233). They’ve also done an excellent job of getting touches in the opponent's box with 543, which ranks them fifth in MLS. What ATL UTD needs to do a better job of against Chicago is create more high-quality chances in order to score. Over the last four matches in MLS, Atlanta has only created four “Big Chances” (defined by Opta as chances you are most likely to convert). That ranks tied for 20th in MLS. One of the keys to earning a road win at Chicago will be to create more big chances.

Fans can tune locally to Bally Sports South on Saturday afternoon as Atlanta United travels to Soldier Field to take on Chicago Fire FC at 5pm ET. Click here to learn all the ways to watch, listen and live stream Saturday's match.