Just when things seemed bleaker than ever, Atlanta United surprised with one its best performances of the season, beating surging FC Dallas, 1-0. The Five Stripes have an opportunity to turn that spark into a fire Sunday evening when it travels to Soldier Field to meet the Chicago Fire.
Like Atlanta, the Fire pulled out of a lengthy winless run with a midweek win. Chicago thrashed the Houston Dynamo 4-0, lifting itself off the floor of the Eastern Conference and into 12th. As you may suspect, though, this season has been a rocky one for the Fire. Raphael Wicky’s first season in charge was supposed to be one of change and growth after uninspiring recents seasons. Plenty of new signings were brought in ahead of the move from Bridgeview to Soldier Field, while the ageing stars of last year (Aleksandar Katai, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Nemanja Nikolić) have all departed.
But though the Fire have showed some signs of hope in 2020 with good performances here and there, it seems to have regressed from 2019. Many of the same mistakes keep popping up like poor finishing and disastrous defending, minus the strengths last season’s team showed. Two wins in a row, though, could provide the foundation for a consistent run of form and a playoff appearance, and this match will certainly be seen as winnable.
Atlanta, meanwhile, has one of the easiest remaining schedules in the league, and theoretically could make a run up the standings, with only four points separating it from 5th. It all starts with picking up wins, though, and there’s no telling whether what we saw Wednesday night is here to stay. A strong performance this weekend would dispel some of those doubts, and could give Atlanta the mentality and confidence to make a real push in the final phase of the season.
Predicted Starting XIs
It won’t be easy, but in the end the Atlanta United we know and love will further step out into the open in a 2-1 win, albeit slightly nervy thanks to a late Chicago consolation goal. A brace from Jon Gallagher will be enough, though. Three points to the Five Stripes!