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Atlanta United at Chicago Fire: Three Questions

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with SB Nation’s Hot Time In Old Town

MLS: Chicago Fire at New York Red Bulls Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

To get everyone ready for Saturday’s match against the Chicago Fire, we spoke with Hot Time In Old Town’s Sean Spence to get his take on their up-and-down start to the season, their potential strategy this weekend, and Bastian Schweinsteiger’s new role.

DSS: It’s been an up-and-down start to the season for the Fire in terms of results. What are some things they have done well and some things they need to improve on?

HTIOT: Given the fairly massive changes to the roster, I think the Fire have done a decent job of shuffling through tactical identities (control possession? Nope. Pure counter? Not enough speed ... etc.) until they found one that seems to suit the group. The fact that their tactical identity is ‘ride breaks and goalkeeping and hope for the best’ tells you how long ago the heights of this point in 2017 seem now.

The Men in Red compete hard and make themselves difficult to play against, largely at the expense of offensive flow and ball retention. If you like pretty football, you’ll have to find it elsewhere.

DSS: Do you expect the Fire to sit back and defend against Atlanta for as long as possible on Saturday, or will they give it a go at home and try to attack them?

HTIOT: I do expect the Fire to play in a canny way against the Five Stripes insane attacking talent. This is still a team that boasts Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty, who are two of the most astute players in MLS. Their presence means that no holes remain unplugged for long, and further gives the Men in Red the ability to shift stances dramatically based upon things those two are seeing in real time. In short, I expect Chicago to rope-a-dope for long periods, with short planned bursts of pressing that will be whistled up as events dictate.

DSS: How has Bastian Schweinsteiger done in his new role as a center back?

HTIOT: I’d rate the centerback experiment as ‘good with potential to be amazing.’ Like Atlanta supporters earlier this year, Fire fans also remember watching Jeff Larentowicz - a very very good defensive midfielder in his prime - get absolutely torn to shreds piranha-style when he tried to step into a back line, so to say anyone felt great about Basti going into the back would be a stretch. But Basti’s quality on the ball, his still-decent athleticism and sometimes-spooky awareness have made it work. His discomfort at the position generally shows up most prominently when the thing he’s doing is stereotypically centerback-y(smashing bodies in the air for headers, say, or bodying a runner off a through ball), but for every moment like that, there’s something that reminds you that oh, right, this is a guy who started for Germany and Bayern for more than a decade all over midfield. A perfect example came when he popped up at the last gasp against the New York Red Bulls waaaay up on the right wing, crossing the ball that Alan Gordon roofed to split the points.

His biggest contribution in the defense is just getting everyone lined up, doing the basic ‘shouting centerback’ stuff that the rest of the defense lacks the inclination (Johan Kappelhof) or experience (Grant Lillard) to do. The incidence of ‘I don’t know how that happened’ from Fire defenders is down 85% over the first couple weeks of the season.