Atlanta United is back at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this weekend when the 5-Stripes host Chicago Fire FC. Following two tough road defeats at Miami and Montréal, Atlanta is looking to get back in the win column on Saturday night. The 5-Stripes still sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, only three points out of fourth place with just over a quarter of the season played. Chicago enters this weekend in 13th place in the standings, but to show how tightly bunched up the conference is at this stage, four points separate fourth place from 13th coming into this weekend. Let’s take a look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot against Chicago Fire FC.
Find some consistency in the attack
Last week’s match against CF Montréal marked the first time all season that Thiago Almada, Marcelino Moreno and Luiz Araújo started for Atlanta United. The trio had some good moments of combination play in the match, while there were other moments in the contest that showed it was the first time they all started together. Moreno scored the team’s lone goal in the match, while Almada created a team-high four chances last week.
As a team, Atlanta is tied for first in MLS with 93 chances created coming into this weekend, while also leading the league in corner kicks (63). One of the keys for Atlanta on Saturday and for the rest of the season is to find some consistency in the attacking lineup to allow them to gel and produce at the level head coach Gonzalo Pineda envisions them to be.
Keeping Shaqiri and Przybylko under control
When you look at the early attacking statistics this season in MLS, Chicago is tied for the worst goal scoring attack with only six goals scored in nine matches. But when you look at the roster on paper, you can tell that the team has some firepower that Atlanta needs to keep an eye on. Former Philadelphia Union striker Kacper Przybylko has been a player who has caused Atlanta some headaches in the last couple of seasons. The tall striker scored four goals in three matches against the 5-Stripes last year.
Chicago’s biggest offseason signing was Xherdan Shaqiri who brings a ton of international experience to the table. He’s had a solid start to the year with two goals and two assists. He’s a player who can deliver world-class quality at a moment’s notice, so it will be important for Atlanta’s midfield to not give him the freedom in the middle of the pitch.
Stay switched on for 90 minutes
Defender Andrew Gutman, who has started every match this season for Atlanta United, said it best following the tough road defeat at Montréal:
“We play so well for 89 minutes of the game. We’re the better team. We’re keeping them pinned in. We’re pushing the tempo, creating chances, all that stuff. We just switch off for a moment and it hurts us. I think, for us, it’s just completing a full 90 minutes. No mental lapses, no mistakes and we’ll start getting wins.”
If Atlanta can stay switched on and put together a complete 90-minute match, and take advantage of the chances they are creating (7.67 xG in the last four matches which is third-best in MLS), they will extend their current unbeaten run at home to 12 matches.
Fans can tune in locally on Bally Sports South on Saturday night with kickoff set for 6pm ET. To tune in on radio fans can listen to Sports Radio 92.9 The Game (English) or La Mejor Atlanta AM 1600 (Spanish)