The Chicago Fire came from behind to earn a 3-3 draw at home against Atlanta United in dramatic fashion. It was a back-and-forth match that had just about everything.
After not being listed in the injury report, the Chicago Fire were without star striker Kei Kamara. As a result, Kacper Przybyłko stepped in to start at the nine while Georgios Koutsias came in off of the bench in the 80th minute.
After starting and scoring a goal at midweek against Charlotte FC, Przybyłko put in another solid performance against Atlanta. The big Polish forward used his size and strength to hold up the ball superbly and in doing so, he was able to set up Maren Haiile-Selassie to put the Fire up 2-1.
Gastón Giménez, who was also not included in the matchday injury/suspension report was also missing from Saturday’s squad and was replaced by Fabian Herbers in midfield.
Especially after the Fire lost their only true defensive midfielder Federico Navarro in just the 26th minute, Gastón’s calming and solid defensive presence was certainly missed.
These two omissions were the only real personnel changes to the Fire’s typical starting XI. However, the team was forced out of their typical 4-2-3-1 system after just 26 minutes.
After picking up a yellow card just 3 minutes into the match, it was almost inevitable that Fede’s tenacious and aggressive play style was going to get him booked again.
The midfielder’s first foul was committed on World Cup winner, Thiago Almada, who caused the Fire all sorts of problems on the night.
The shifty Argentine continually found himself driving through the heart of midfield with the ball as the Fire’s midfield struggled to contain him. Fede was not the only one who was booked for dragging down the electric midfielder as Brian Gutierréz and Fabian Herbers both picked up cards for the same offense.
Especially after the Fire were forced into a 4-4-1 following the red card, Almada found himself with even more time and space on the ball as Atlanta were at a three-on-two advantage in central midfield. Atlanta lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Almada deployed as the number 10.
His elite movement was a nightmare for the Fire as he would sometimes come deep to receive the ball while other times he would find pockets in between the lines in more advanced areas. This unpredictability combined with his superb technical ability and a man advantage really had the Fire under the cosh.
Not just from open play was the Argentine dangerous, but from dead balls as well. The 22-year-old took three free kicks during the match and forced saves from Chris Brady on each occasion.
On his first attempt, he whipped a strike around the wall and forced Brady to make a diving save that was not catchable. The rebound fell to Atlanta United captain Andrew Gutman who was unmarked at the back post. Herbers was the man closest to Gutman but was nowhere near him on the goal and was caught in no man’s land.
Almada’s next two free-kicks also forced diving saves out of Brady. The 19-year-old goalkeeper was able to get crucial fingertips on both strikes to force the ball over the crossbar and away from danger.
Down a man, the Fire obviously saw less of the ball and had to work even harder to win back possession. When the Fire were able to get back in control of the ball, they attacked with pace and with numbers.
In the first half, however, the Fire were often wasteful with these efforts and often failed to get a shot off from what initially looked like a promising move.
In all honesty, the Fire were pretty fortunate to draw level off of Shaqiri’s near-post “Olimpico”/Atlanta own goal. A clever run from Haile-Selassie drew the Atlanta defender at the front post away from his position and inevitably allowed the ball to bumble into the net. In all honesty, through poor defending and a crummy corner kick, the Fire entered halftime on level terms.
Atlanta came out strong in the second half and continued to dominate the match having a man advantage. Against the run of play, however, the Fire found the go-ahead goal through some delicate holdup play from Przybyłko and an emphatic finish from Haile-Selassie.
After taking the lead, the Fire continued to press for another goal despite being a man down. This is one thing that was lacking from the Fire whilst under the management of Ezra Hendrickson. In so many games during his time as manager, the Fire would sit on their lead and defend in the second half before eventually conceding that lead.
Although the Fire did concede just six minutes after taking the lead, we can attribute that to pushing forward while playing a man down. This new ambition and mindset of the Fire is certainly an improvement and will help the Fire continue to get results this season.
The turning point of the second half came in the 71st minute. At this point in the match, Atlanta had found a third goal to swing the game back in their favor. However, the sending-off of Luiz Araújo completely shifted the momentum back in favor of the Fire.
Having shown great attacking desire throughout the duration of the second half, the Fire were able to carry this energy into the final 20 minutes and dominate the match now that it was ten versus ten.
Not only this but Araújo’s sending-off allowed Fire to make three attacking substitutions. Immediately following Araújo’s red card, Chris Mueller was brought into the game for Fabian Herbers, and in the 80th minute, Georgios Koutsias and Jairo Torres were brought on.
After this double switch in the 80th minute, the Fire attacked with a front 4 with Xherdan Shaqiri and Torres right behind the front line. Holding the majority of possession and with lots of attacking numbers, the Fire were in and around Atlanta’s box for the duration of the closing period of the match.
The Fire’s persistent pressure and presence in the attacking third finally found the hosts a well-deserved equalizer through Koutsias in the 89th minute. The young Greek striker bagged his first Chicago Fire goal in a crucial moment and was able to secure his team a well-deserved point.
The Fire certainly showed a lot of fight on Saturday, especially after facing the adversity of going down a man before the half-hour mark. Earlier in the season, something like this would have broken the Fire down completely and cost them all three points. However, the Fire played with a desire to go forward even when in front and ran for every ball on Saturday in order to compensate for playing with just ten.
Some new sense of heart has certainly been found after Frank Klopas and the Fire will need to keep this mentality during this crucial stretch of upcoming away matches.