Can the Five Stripes extinguish the Fire on the road?
Atlanta United will face Chicago Fire at Soldier Field on Saturday in an MLS match with three crucial points on the line. Kickoff will be at 5:08 P.M.
As the Five Stripes continue to slump in the standings, this match represents a must-win if Atlanta is to maintain hopes of making the playoffs.
Chicago Fire (7-5-10) is ninth in the East with 24 goals for and 28 against. They have won their last three games and scored six goals between them. Despite this, the Fire's attack is not very potent. Their expected non-penalty goals is 26.3 compared to Atlanta's 31.4 and their shot-creating actions per 90 is 20.32 to Atlanta's 25.19. The main stars of Chicago's attack include Xherdan Shaqiri (4 goals, 3 assists), Chris Mueller (3 goals, 3 assists), Jhon Durán (3 goals, 3 assists), and Kacper Przybylko (3 goals, 1 assist).
Out of five games that Atlanta has played at Soldier Field, it has only won once. Between those games, Chicago has outscored the Five Stripes 13-3.
Chicago in their recent form has been good at passing the ball around and navigating into their opponent's box. Even though they aren't particularly heavy on, possession they do know what to do with it. Players like Shaqiri and Mueller are deadly if given space to shoot. Up top, Durán has shown good pace and a cannon of a left leg.
On defense, the team has been solid under the on-field leadership of veteran Raphael Czichos. They have managed a whopping nine clean sheets this season, putting them in a tie with the Philadelphia Union for second-most. The Fire's defenders are capable of tracking back quickly and marking well in the box.
Chicago Fire Predicted XI
Atlanta United Predicted XI
How does Atlanta win?
At this point, it sounds like a broken record, but Atlanta needs to score first. They still have yet to win a game on the road when conceding first this season, so they'll need to take care in the back. They need to be able to close down the Fire's attackers in and around the box to not give away goal-scoring opportunities.
They also need to keep constant tabs on Shaqiri. The Swiss national can move around quickly and is skillful on the ball. He creates space for himself, can pick out passes, and is without a doubt the Fire's most dangerous player. If Atlanta takes its eyes off of him, it's going to see the ball in the back of its net.
On the attack, the players need to start playing together and have more awareness of their teammates' positioning. Players like Marcelino Moreno and Luiz Araújo that love to dribble and do individual plays need to pick their heads up a bit more often and try to look for a pass. With Andrew Gutman back, we could see Gonzalo Pineda push Caleb Wiley into more of a winger role. This will hopefully help them generate more chances in the attacking third with quick runs in behind and crosses into the box.