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Roll the Tape: Analyzing Atlanta United’s 2-1 win over Chicago Fire

It wasn’t pretty. Let’s see why.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

For those of you who were able to survive the anxiety-inducing match that took place in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, you probably deserve a medal. It was not a fun match to watch. In fact, it was the worst performance this team has put on this season. Even, I’d argue, worst than the 6-1 trouncing at Columbus. Regardless, Atlanta United was able to barely pull through with a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire, defending their perfect home record in MLS against the Men in Red.

Now it’s time to look at the good, the bad and the (very) ugly from this match. I learned a new trick with my Apple Pencil to make the arrows and lines look cleaner, so hopefully, things look better than in the past.

Let’s start with the good. By “good” I mean a goal.

Atlanta United Goal - Giorgos Giakoumakis 12’

Santiago Sosa brings the ball forward from his position as a sort of third center back when he drops back. Coming over to pressure is Xherdan Shaqiri (red arrow), so Thiago Almada steps toward Sosa to give him a passing option. Sosa sees it and plays the pass (blue arrow).

Almada has now received the ball with his back to two Chicago players that are going to pressure and make it difficult for him to turn around, so he should probably look for another way upfield. Almada notices that Chicago’s forwards aren’t really pressing too intensely and may open some room between them if he can pass around Shaqiri. He finds Juanjo Purata (solid blue arrow) and moves around Shaqiri to receive the ball again (dotted blue arrow).

Notice that Andrew Gutman is preparing a run on the left side (purple arrow) at the same time that Brooks Lennon (circled in yellow) is widening the field for Atlanta on the far touchline.

Almada is in position, so Purata returns the ball to his Argentine teammate (blue arrow). Notice where Chicago’s forwards are (underlined in red) and how static they are. This will afford Almada the time and space he needs to look around and find a good pass.

And find a good pass he does. Brooks Lennon begins sprinting down the right flank (yellow arrow), which Almada sees before he plays a wonderful ball over the top for the fullback to chase (blue arrow).

But Almada’s pass is rolling too quickly toward the end line. Lennon really has to turn on the turbo to get there in time (blue arrow). If he does get to it in time, he’ll have to act quickly before Jonathan Dean arrives to close him down (red arrow). During all this, Giorgos Giakoumakis is making a run into the heart of the box and trying to get in a spot where he’s most likely to receive the ball from Lennon (yellow arrow).

To many people’s surprise, Lennon actually does get to the ball before it rolls out of play and immediately plays a cutback to the center of the box (blue arrow).

Rafael Czichos tries to cut out the pass, but his momentum takes him through and it rolls past to a waiting Giakoumakis (blue arrow) who only has Carlos Terán (circled in red) behind him.

Giakoumakis stretches to stop the ball with his right foot…

… before blasting it into the back of the net (blue arrow) to give Atlanta a 1-0 lead.


  • Thiago Almada had a bad game but still contributed. We’ve seen an Almada earlier in the season who has been much more destabilizing to defenses with his movement through midfield. Of course, with the team giving the ball away so often and struggling to play through the middle, it’s no big surprise that Almada would have difficulty getting on the ball. Even with one of his weaker performances this season, he still put in a really good pass for a second assist on this play.
  • GIAKOUMAKIS COMES FROM GREECE. WHEN HE PLAYS HE SCORES WITH EASE. The man literally can’t stop scoring (and I hope he doesn’t). And it’s not like he’s scoring Zava bangers from the kickoff, he’s just finding the right places to be inside the box and pouncing with some incredible goal-scoring instinct. Hopefully, his run of form continues and maybe the younger strikers like Miguel Berry and Erik Lopez can learn from him.

Great Chance - Chicago Fire 67’

The play starts with Chris Mueller retreating a bit to find Gastón Giménez (blue arrow). Atlanta United is in their typical defensive 4-4-2 posture with both wingers tucking in to join the midfield pairing while Almada and Berry remain further upfield in case there’s a counterattack opportunity.

Giménez has space and time to evaluate his options, so he waits for someone to open up. That’s exactly what veteran forward Kei Kamara does with a run deep into Atlanta’s box (yellow arrow). Giménez sees that a chance is on and plays a lobbed ball to the 38-year-old Sierra Leonean (blue arrow).

Look at where Maren Haile-Selassie (circled in purple) is at this point. He’s making his way into the box where no opponent should be left unmarked. Ideally, he would be Andrew Gutman’s man to mark so that Caleb Wiley can be free to deal with Arnaud Souquet if necessary. Either way, ONE of them has to stay with Haile-Selassie because of not… well… just watch.

Kamara wins the aerial duel inside the box and heads the ball down toward the penalty spot (blue arrow) where a COMPLETELY OPEN Hiale-Selassie is charging to get his shot off (yellow arrow).

Notice that there is a very large area inside the box where this ball lands that is completely devoid of Atlanta United players (big red circle). This is really bad.

Haile-Selassie gets to the ball and has a really good chance to equalize for Chicago…

… but his shot goes waaaaaay wide and Atlanta United gets a lucky break from what should’ve been a sure-fire concession.


  • Everyone needs some more awareness inside the box. You can’t leave that much space open for an opponent to run in and take shots at your goal. Part of the blame here goes to Gutman and Wiley for leaving Haile-Selassie alone and allowing him to run in, but I could also see the argument that Miles Robinson should move more centrally after Purata goes with Kamara to balance things inside the box. However they decide to do this in the future, they definitely have to be more careful during these kinds of plays. If that ball goes in, then we’re talking about a very different result from this game.
  • Watch the gaps between the lines. Soccer fields are large and wide (unless you’re playing in a baseball stadium) and it’s hard to cover the entire width of the field with 11 players. Fortunately, you don’t need to cover the entire width of the field, you just need to cover the areas that the opposing 11 players are trying to get into to score (namely the box). However, there are going to be spaces between your players that the opponent is going to try to exploit with runs and through balls. Although that didn’t happen in this play, there were a couple of options for penetrative passes that could’ve put Atlanta in hot water. Options that top-attacking teams like LAFC, St. Louis or New England are certain to take advantage of.

Chicago Fire Goal - Kacper Przybylko 90’

Yes, we do have to look at it again. Why? Because it’s ridiculous? Because it’s really bad? Well... yeah, but also to learn from the team’s mistakes and see what they could’ve done better.

And also because it was REALLY bad. Very bad. Terrible.

Oh, would you look at the time? It’s the 89th minute of the match and Atlanta United is up a goal. Surely the team read last week’s “Roll the Tape” where they would’ve learned that at this point they just need to maintain possession, stay in a compressed, low block when not in possession, avoid any silly mistakes and just wait for the whistle.

In this frame, Franco Ibarra has just received the ball and is facing some pressure from behind. He just needs to find a passing option to someone who won’t immediately lose the ball. He has Lennon and Luiz Araujo on the right side, both safe options for a pass. He could also go to Wiley who would likely have to immediately pass it backward with pressure behind him. The best option is probably Gutman who could receive and then move toward the left flank (dotted yellow arrow) and take advantage of all the space along that flank (red circle).

So Ibarra has no less than four good passing options (all the solid yellow arrows) that aren’t very difficult and won’t turn the ball over immediately. Heck, he could’ve even blasted the ball out for a throw-in and Atlanta would’ve been better off.

Instead, he plays a perfectly weighted through ball... to Kacper Przybylko (blue arrow). Chicago’s striker.

Atlanta’s defenders rush back to try and stop Przybylko (red arrows), but he has too much of a head start. The Polish striker closes in on Atlanta’s goal (yellow arrow).

Note that Przybylko can’t be offside because the pass came from an opponent.

Diop does his best and comes out as far as he can and makes himself as large as possible to make it harder for Przybylko. The 30-year-old striker fires (blue arrow)...

... but it’s saved by Diop! Maybe there’s still hope for Atlanta United. The bad news, however, is that the ball bounces off of Diop and lands in the path of yet another threat - Brian Gutierrez.

Gutierrez gets to the ball and no defender is near him (obviously as everyone was just scrambling to get back and deal with the immediate danger), so someone needs to go over and close him down before he takes a shot on an empty net.

The person that ends up rushing toward Gutierrez is Robinson (solid red arrow), but I think it should’ve actually been Andrew Gutman who stepped up to deal with the danger (dotted red arrow). That way, Robinson could stay on Przybylko (dotted yellow arrow) and the Polish striker isn’t just sitting open in the middle of the box.

That doesn’t happen though, and Gutierrez waits for Robinson to open space (red arrow) before passing to Przybylko (blue arrow) who has both an easy shot and an easy layoff to Haile-Selassie on his left (dotted yellow arrows).

But Przybylko decides to take it himself and scores an easy goal.


  • This goal was a summary of this game. All match long we saw the same silly mistakes from Atlanta United. Bad giveaways resulted in chances for Chicago that Atlanta was fortunate to survive... until this one. This one was just too egregious an error. Want a one-sentence summary of this game? It’s “Atlanta creates its own problems.” Was Chicago the better team on Sunday? Yeah. Are they a better team than Atlanta? Heck no. But they sure made it seem that way. Hopefully, they get this sorted out sooner rather than later.
  • Atlanta United really needs to stop conceding goals toward the end of games. It happened last week and they missed out on two points that would have them neck-and-neck with the New England Revolution and FC Cincinnati at the top of the table. Two points that they had in their grasp until a last-minute concession. Atlanta United needs to learn to hold its nerve better toward the end of games and close them out when they have all three points in hand. They were lucky to find a game-winner in stoppage time, but they can’t rely on being that lucky every match.