Atlanta United is back on the road this weekend to face the Chicago Fire (7-3-4), who currently sit in second place in the Eastern Conference standings. Atlanta beat the fire 4-0 in their last matchup after an early red card for the opponents, but Chicago is on a good run of form. Here's what fans of the red, black and gold can expect out of the Fire this weekend:
German class in midfield
The most obvious difference for Chicago since the last time they faced Atlanta United is the addition of a World Cup champion. Bayern Munich legend Bastian Schweinsteiger signed for the club days after their game against Atlanta, and their form has picked up considerably since. They've lost only two of their eleven games since his signing, and have shot up to second place in the Eastern Conference standings. Combining with Dax McCarty and Juninho in the center of the park, they've formed one of the most formidable midfields in the league. Atlanta United midfielder Julian Gressel weighed in on his role earlier this week, saying, “He controls the tempo of the game. He can be offensive, but also knows how to to stay back and keep the possession moving. He's an all-around player, so he just filters out what the games needs and provides that.” Shutting down the midfield engine would go a huge way to shutting down Chicago's in-form offense.
Shutting out the Golden Boot leader
Speaking of shutting down an in-form offense, perhaps the hottest striker in the league suits up for Chicago. Despite Atlanta’s #10 Miguel Almirón winning player of the week twice in the past 30 days, it was Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic who took home the Alcatel MLS Player of the Month award for the month of May. The 29-year-old Hungarian international led the Polish first division in goals last season, and has hardly slowed down since making his move to MLS in the offseason. One of the key additions in Chicago's offseason overhaul, Nikolic has scored 11 goals in 13 games to lead the Golden Boot race so far this season. He's a pure finisher; not someone to drop back and orchestrate the attack but lethal in the 18-yard box, with ten out of his eleven goals so far coming from one-touch finishes. And his form in May was his best yet, with six goals and an assist in just a five-match stretch to become the fastest to ten league goals in Chicago Fire history.
Stellar home form
Chicago hit a speed bump on the road against Orlando City last week. Despite Orlando getting two red cards, Chicago was unable to score against a packed-in shorthanded defense. That's only the third time out of 30 matches that a team has been unable to score despite a two-man advantage since 2010. But the Fire have been a different proposition at home. They're now unbeaten in Chicago in ten matches, including five consecutive wins, their best run of home form in five years. But Atlanta United's road form is nothing to sniff at. Despite winning only two of their eight road games so far, the draws are adding up for crucial points. Atlanta is one of only six teams to average more than a point per road game in MLS this season.
Kickoff is set for 4:00 p.m. ET, and will be broadcast on UniMás and streamed live on Univision Deportes' Facebook Page. You can also listen to the game on the Atlanta United app or through one of our radio partners, 92.9 the Game or, for Spanish-speaking listeners, La Mejor Atlanta. Click here for a full rundown of how you can follow along with the game as it happens.