The end of the line is finally here for Atlanta United as they host the Chicago Fire at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday night. The Fire are in a strange situation: they’re in the seventh playoff spot in the East right now, but with 15 matches played, teams below them that have played fewer matches (like Toronto FC and Orlando City) have a chance to make some moves after the break.
After a late goal at D.C. United on Wednesday, the Fire were able to salvage a point despite leading 2-0 in the first half. How does that affect the team’s mindset going into its game at Atlanta?
The FIre have not been good on the road. Their three road results this season all have this feeling of miraculousness to them and that won’t change really. The problem is that their performances have nothing to do with mentality or mindset. The Fire have huge personnel gaps at fullback, and the thing that’s going to kill them more than blowing a lead and then coming back is that they have no fullbacks.
One of the club’s defining features is that there’s no quit in them. They will play hard for 90 minutes even if they’re not doing particularly well. Because of the roster problems, I was not surprised that they let D.C. back in the game because of their roster shortcomings. Nor was I surprised that they fought and created opportunities to re tie the game.
However, the players and the manager recognize that what happened wasn’t good enough, and they’re going into Saturday with that mentality. Weather or not they’re good enough to prevent it is another matter entirely.
The Fire sit in 7th right now, but with teams above and below them holding multiple games in hand, does that equal an added sense of urgency for the club to get all three points on Saturday?
For the players and staff, I don’t think they can be all that concerned with that sort of thing. They know they have to get points because to them, that’s the byproduct of playing well. They should less concerned with where they are in the table, which doesn’t really matter until the end of July, and more focused on getting better as a team.
For the media and fanbase, it ads to our anxiety somewhat. But I think a lot of us, myself included, are resigned to another year of mediocrity in the league and are doing what we always seem to do in June, and that’s concentrate on the Open Cup for any sort of competitive satisfaction.
CJ Sapong now has goals in back-to-back matches and has taken 7 shots in those games (4 on target). His health a few weeks ago was a slight concern, but does it feel like he’s getting a bit more involved in the attack as opposed to earlier in the year?
CJ Sapong started off the season hot. He had two goals and an assist in the first three games, and scored four goals in the clubs first seven games. His dropoff and resurgence had less to do about his health and more to do about the role he’s been asked to play.
Since that hot start, Injuries to other players, most notably Przemysław Frankowski, forced him into a more supporting role on the wings, where he can do a competent job, but not really where he’s best played. Since Nemanja Nikolic’s benching, he’s back to playing at the top of the formation where he can be most effective, and it’s showing. He’s getting into good positions and putting away scoring opportunities, which is what the team needs him (or anyone, really) to do to win games and score points.