Atlanta United (7-5-2) are looking for a strong finish to their hectic May with back-to-back wins at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But to do that, they’ll have to beat a in-form Chicago Fire (4-5-6) side with just one defeat in their last six MLS matches. With both times fighting for position in the playoff spots in the East, it’s one you won’t want to miss.
Ahead of the Saturday night matchup, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot:
While Atlanta United’s focus on young South Americans has been an incredible success, the Chicago Fire is proving there is still quality to be had with older European stars. Their latest addition, Nicolás Gaitán comes with years of European experience, thriving at Atlético Madrid in Spain and Benfica in the Portuguese league. He’s quick with the dribble and incisive with his passing once he creates a yard of space, and he has the soccer mind and pedigree to cut open any defense. If Atlanta United can keep him pushed back away from their goal and not allow him to build up a head of steam in the counter-attack, it will go a long way toward starving Chicago’s forward line of the service it needs to put the ball in the back of the net.
Disrupt the Rhythm
One tactical wrinkle unique to the Chicago Fire is the positioning of German legend Bastian Schweinsteiger. The former Bayern Munich man wants to get on the ball as early as possible when the Fire have possession, using his class on the ball and incisive passing to set the forward attacking momentum. He’s as good at anyone in the MLS in keeping the tempo of possession high, using quick passing to shift the midfield and open up gaps to spring a pass and send a teammate through onto the defense. Atlanta United’s enforcers in the midfield will have to disrupt his time on the ball and reduce his influence in the buildup. If they do that, they could throw a monkey wrench into the Chicago engine room before the attack even gets started.
Play Through the Press
In last year’s matchups between Atlanta United and Chicago Fire, head coach Veljko Paunovic has set his team up in a man-to-man defensive press high up the field. It’s a physical style that tries to clog up Atlanta United’s quick passing by taking away the passing options. It means Atlanta United will have to be unselfish and tireless with their runs to stay out of the reach of defenders and create space for others. When the Five Stripes break through the initial wave of high pressure, they have to pounce on the area in behind. The Fire have conceded a combined seven goals in their past two matches, so the team will have opportunities. If they can take advantage of chances when they come, they’ll finish off their two-match homestand with six points.
The match is set to kick off Saturday at 6:00 p.m. ET from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. You can watch the match on UniMás, stream it on FOX Sports GO or listen in on 92.9 The Game or in Spanish at La Mejor Atlanta. For more details on how to follow along from home, click here.