If you thought Atlanta United had a particularly poor month of April (and quite rightfully so), well, look no further than the Chicago Fire for even more misery. The Five Stripes’ Week 11 opponents have a whopping one goal (a penalty no less) in its last five outings, went out of the US Open Cup in embarrassing fashion to USL League One side Union Omaha, and are winless since March 19th. So an Atlanta win this Saturday seems like a formality, right Right???
The Five Stripes have been in steady decline ever since its 1-0 win at DC United. Maybe not so much in terms of performances (which weren’t all that great to begin with), but most definitely in results (which weren’t all that great to begin with). Atlanta has since notched three losses and a draw, tallying a grand total of three goals across the last month. The heavy dose of mediocrity the Eastern Conference took means that Atlanta is still in the playoff picture (barely) but 7th place and 1.22 points per game is nowhere near good enough. And if things don’t start looking up soon, the Five Stripes are in danger of sliding even further down the East. Along with this weekend’s tilt against Chicago, Atlanta has a slowly improving New England Revolution, two trips to Nashville, and a visit from the Columbus Crew in its May calendar. Those are some of the toughest tests yet for Gonzalo Pineda and Co, and current signs aren’t exactly reassuring. But first up on the menu is a home clash with the 13th-place team in the East and what should be a confidence boost before the going really gets tough.
Chicago sits second-last with 10 points despite starting the season five-unbeaten under first-year coach Ezra Hendrickson. The defensive solidity shown in those first few games where it registered four shutouts has withered, while the attack is yet to show any signs of life whatsoever. Led by 17-year-old Gabriel Slonina (who has the 3rd-highest save percentage in the East) in goal, Chicago is still a tough nut to crack (especially in the first half where it's yet to concede this season) and has the second-best defense in the league with 7 goals against. However, its conceded 3 and 2 goals respectively in the last twenty minutes of its most recent matches, losses to Minnesota and the Red Bulls. As for the final third, few teams have shown as much aversion to putting the ball in the net as Chicago. The Fire has notched six goals all season long, engaged in four nil-nil draws, and last scored from open play six games ago. Big money signing Xherdan Shaqiri has only two goals (both from the spot) and doesn’t look at all comfortable as the 10 in Chicago’s system. Kacper Przybylko, signed in the offseason from Philadelphia, also has just two goals to his name and no one on the roster has more than one assist. The impending arrival of wingers Jairo Torres and Chris Mueller should help, but neither will be in action this weekend. Nor will DP center back Rafael Czichos, who was red-carded against New York.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Atlanta United 1-0 Chicago Fire
Expect possession. Lots of it.