The games are coming thick and fast for the Chicago Fire, who now must face a hungry Atlanta United team at Soldier Field following the midweek loss at Charlotte. Atlanta have one of the most talented rosters in the league, and while they did have a difficult stretch since the teams last met in Georgia, they’re showing more flashes of their potential. To gain more insight into the Fire’s opponent, we spoke with Sydney Hunte of Dirty South Soccer.
About a month ago, the Fire fell to a stoppage time loss in Atlanta. In general, how has Atlanta looked since that game?
Not great, to say the least! Chicago certainly deserved at least a point from that match as Atlanta’s attack struggled to get much going. It followed up the win with four straight losses across all competions, including in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup against Memphis 901. After the loss to Charlotte, Gonzalo Pineda was firm that his players needed to elevate their mentality and return to the form that they enjoyed earlier in the season and, at least for one night, it worked in a blowout of the Rapids.
I think there’s a massive correlation between the loss of Giorgos Giakoumakis, who appears to be as advertised (at least early in his Atlanta career), and Atlanta’s losing skid. Having your captain and No. 1 keeper (Brad Guzan) missing for an extended period doesn’t help matters, either. It speaks to a leadership void in the locker room for the team: who is that voice that can settle the team and command respect? I think Guzan is that person, but Giakoumakis has shown that he can be that as well.
Now fourth place in the east, would you say Atlanta has played to the level that was expected of them so far?
It’s a lot better than last year, when it seemed as if a new player was getting injured every week. That said, it could be much better (just look at the recent losing streak). I feel as if this team really hinges on the level of play of Giakoumakis and Almada, especially as the two of them begin to build chemistry in the Atlanta attack. Outside of that, depth is an issue, especially at defensive midfield and at the striker position behind Giakoumakis. That makes the upcoming transfer window vitally important as Atlanta will look to bring in reinforcements — making things more interesting is that they’ll have a DP slot available with the upcoming departure of Luiz Araujo for Flamengo.
In short, Atlanta has underwhelmed, to be fair, and some could argue the hot start was papering over the cracks of deeper issues. We’ll see if the win against Colorado gets them going especially with Giakomakis back in the lineup.
With a thumping 4-0 win over the Colorado Rapids, Atlanta snapped a four-game losing streak. How will they approach the game against the Fire to continue getting wins on the board?
With urgency, but with the mindset that it can’t take Chicago for granted. These are difficult times for the Fire, as you know, but they aren’t far out of playoff places if they can put a string of wins together. If I’m Atlanta, though, I’m looking to maybe exploit some of the fragility that Chicago has shown (certainly against this same team a few weeks ago, but in other matches throughout the year). The biggest thing for me is getting that first goal: Atlanta have had trouble enough over the past couple of years getting wins on the road, and forcing Chicago to chase the match early on can really play to its favor.
Thiago Almada and Georgios Giakoumakis both caused considerable damage to the Fire in the last meeting. What other players could be difference-makers this weekend?
I’d take a look at Araujo. Although he’s leaving, he’ll be looking to show Flamengo what he’s capable of. He never quite reached his potential with Atlanta, but with his time with the club running short, hopefully he can elevate his play and build on what’s been some decent form in recent matches.
Andrew Gutman is another player to keep an eye on (not only because he’ll be back home in Chicagoland). He provides a spark from his left back position with his willingness to get forward, and really has that will and desire to get things done. He didn’t play against Colorado due to a red card against Charlotte, but it’ll be good to have him back.