Atlanta United is enjoying one of the best seasons in MLS history and a win this weekend would put them at 69 total points – equaling the record for most points in a single season. And with a little help from another result, the Five Stripes could secure the Supporters’ Shield. But it all starts with what they can control, which is a win over the Chicago Fire in their last regular season home game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this Sunday.
Ahead of the crucial Eastern Conference clash, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot:
Perhaps Chicago’s most important acquisition of the 2018 season has been Aleksander Katai – a Serbian midfielder who came on loan from La Liga’s Deportivo Alaves and has since made his move to MLS permanent. While the team may have not performed at a playoff level this season, the 27-year-old addition certainly brought the creativity and attacking spark that originally caught the eye of the Fire’s technical staff. He’s tallied 12 goals and 5 assists this year, and has recorded more shots than anyone on his team. With plenty of skill on the ball to beat his man and an eye for goal if he does, he’s a player that can create opportunities out of nothing. So even if ATL UTD come out as hot as they’ve been all season, they will need to keep Katai off the ball because he’s a player that could spoil a good performance with one moment of magic.
Beware of Bastian
Everyone knows about German international legend and World Cup Champion Bastian Schweinsteiger, who joined the Fire last season. Most expected for his experience to be his primary contribution, but despite his 34 years of age, he can still move well, distribute and pick any team apart if given the chance from the center of the park. He’s been granted even more freedom in 2018 to roam, find the ball and create, and it’s shown as he leads his team with six assists this season. He’s not just on the field to provide a pivot in the center or lead the youth in the side; he’s an energetic, clever midfielder with plenty of class still left in the tank, so Atlanta United will need to lock him down on Sunday.
Break the Press
Playoffs or not, Atlanta United’s knows Veljko Paunović’s Chicago team will be high pressing from the opening whistle and as they’ve experienced in previous meetings, it can be quite effective. But they’ve played out of it before in their last regular season matchup in Chicago – strongly withstanding the pressure for the first half of the match, allowing the Fire to tire themselves out, and then utilizing the technical and passing abilities of their midfield to break the press. And with the wide field of Mercedes-Benz Stadium at their disposal this time out, utilizing the width and space on the ball will be important to stretch the Fire as far as they can while they attempt to press as a unit.
Follow the Match:
Kickoff is set for 3:00 p.m. EST on Sunday, with the match set to be broadcast on ESPN. You can listen to the game on the Atlanta United app or on the radio: 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.