Spurned on by an Ezequiel Barco wonder-volley, Atlanta United picked up its first win of the regular season with a 3-1 smothering of Chicago Fire back on April 24th. The Five Stripes had already beaten Alajuelense home and away in the CCL and taken an impressive point on the road from Orlando City coming into the home-opener. But since then Atlanta has only entered the win column once in league play and crashed out of the Champions League to Philly. No matter which way you look at it, Gabriel Heinze’s first ten games haven’t been ones for the history books. Things don’t seem to be turning around anytime soon either; the Gold Cup and Olympics will take four starters away from Heinze’s disposal in the coming weeks. While reinforcements in the transfer window do offer hope, this summer is looking more and more of a slog every week. A visit to the worst team in the league never hurts, however, and Saturday brings the Five Stripes an opportunity to brighten the mood.
Only a handful of teams in the Eastern Conference have had direr records than Atlanta: Cincinnati, Miami, Toronto, and one of the two teams the Five Stripes have beaten so far, Chicago. The Fire has a miserable five points from ten games and is already 8 points and seven places out of the playoff picture. Goals have been especially hard to come by for the side from Windy City. It has found the back of the net a whopping seven times through two months including three last weekend against Philadelphia. DP striker Robert Beric has regressed significantly from his twelve-goal 2020 season and hasn’t scored since the season opener. It’s no shock that Chicago has struggled so mightily. After finishing eleventh with five wins all year last season, the Fire signed only four players in the offseason and kept the starting XI almost identical. A lot of weight was put on Raphael Wicky’s coaching and roster stability to take Chicago to the next level but so far neither roster nor manager has proved up to the task.
Predicted Starting XIs
With the Gold Cup and Olympics on the horizon, this could be Atlanta’s last “full strength” lineup for a while. Full strength is relative of course, with Jurgen Damm and Franco Ibarra likely out, alongside Emerson Hyndman. Josef Martinez and Ronald Hernandez are back from international duty with Venezuela but the former might not be at full fitness after testing positive for COVID-19. The only change from the draw against the New York Red Bulls is expected to be Alan Franco for Ibarra, moving Santiago Sosa into a more advanced role.
Chicago changed things up from its normal 4-2-3-1 into a 5-3-2 last weekend. The formation switch had an immediate impact as the Fire drew the Philadelphia Union 3-3 in a topsy-turvey game. Considering almost half of Chicago’s total goals scored came in that game, the 5-2-3 might be here to stay.
Prediction: Chicago Fire 1-2 Atlanta United
It won’t be a pretty affair but Atlanta will do enough to stumble to its first three points in six games. A goal from Cubo Torres (lol) late in the second half will decide the action at Solder Field.