Atlanta United (6-1-1) has been perhaps the most in-form team in all of MLS over the past month, but they will face another stiff test this week as they head to the Windy City to face the Chicago Fire (2-3-2). While the Fire sit a few spots down the standings, they have plenty of quality and are unbeaten in their last five matches, making this a must-see match for any Five Stripes fan. Make sure to tune in on Fox Sports Southeast at 8:30 p.m. EST to catch every minute.
Ahead of this weekend’s match, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot:
Nothing changes games quite like goals, and no one scores for the Fire like Hungarian striker Nemanja Nikolic. Last year’s Golden Boot winner has already scored five goals this season, nearly half of the team’s 11-goal total so far. One of the most clinical finishers in the league, Nikolic is a constant threat to get on the end of crosses both high and low, and is always making the final run to get behind the defense. Much like Atlanta United’s game plan against Zlatan Ibrahimovic a few weeks ago, Five Stripes defenders will have to keep a constant eye on Nikolic whenever Chicago is on the attack. Their number 23 only needs a yard of space to get an effective shot on goal, so keeping a body on him and limiting the service in from the wings will be a critical step to shutting down the Fire’s attack.
Shut Down Schweinsteiger
The heartbeat of Chicago’s midfield is a World Cup champion: German legend Bastian Schweinsteiger. With a range of passing as good as anyone in the league, Schweinsteiger will try to get as many touches as possible when Chicago is in possession to dictate the play from the deep-lying midfield position. He has been deployed in a sweeper role in the defense as well as central midfield so far this year. Wherever he is, he will look to switch the play with long diagonal balls and keep the ball in constant motion with short passes to avoid Atlanta United’s press. Allowing him time on the ball will only let him dominate the game, so keeping constant pressure on the German in the middle could go a long way to disrupting their build-up play.
Last week’s early goal conceded against the Montreal Impact was the first time Atlanta United has trailed in a match since their season-opening loss against the Houston Dynamo. It proved to be a tough obstacle to overcome, with the Canadian side able to sit deep with eleven men defending as they protected their slim advantage. And it almost worked, with the Five Stripes unable to break through until nearly 70 minutes into the match. Atlanta United’s record when scoring first is one of the best in the league, and hitting Chicago with an early goal would force them to come out of their defensive third and expose spaces around the back line –– and there are few attacks more lethal than the Five Stripes when they have room to work. Coming out strong could take the home crowd out of the game and make Atlanta United’s job much easier for the rest of the match.
Follow the Match:
Kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m. EST, with the match set to be broadcast on Fox Sports Southeast and streamed on Fox Sports GO. You can 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 to follow along with the game.