The Chicago Fire are on the road to take on an Eastern Conference contender for the second time in four days, this time in the form of reigning MLS Cup champions Atlanta United FC.
The nationally-televised contest will be broadcast on UniMas and streamed live on Twitter come kickoff at 5 p.m. CT. As the Men In Red look to claim three vital points on the road, get set for Saturday with the #ATLvCHI Match Storylines, presented by NovaCare:
Head coach Frank de Boer and Atlanta United enter Saturday’s match on the heels of a 3-0 home win over Minnesota United on Wednesday night. Forward Josef Martinez picked up his seventh and eighth goals of 2019 on the night to help push Atlanta to fourth place in the Eastern Conference on 23 points through 14 matches played.
The Fire are back on the East Coast for the second time in four days, having drawn 3-3 at D.C. United on Wednesday night. The back-and-forth affair saw CJ Sapong and Djordje Mihailović help provide an early Fire lead, before Francisco Calvo negated D.C.’s comeback with a headed goal in second half stoppage time. The Fire are unbeaten in five of their last six matches, and currently sit in seventh place in the East with 8 points through 15 played.
Midfielder Nicolás Gaitán was a surprise inclusion in head coach Veljko Paunović's starting XI on Wednesday, after the Argentine creator had missed the Fire's previous two matches. Gaitán was previously subbed out in the first half of the Fire's 2-0 home win over Minnesota United on May 11 with a leg injury. In a Man of the Match-worthy 78-minute shift, Gaitán picked up his team-leading fifth assist on a swerving set piece cross to Sapong for the game's opening goal.
With the three goals netted by the Fire on Wednesday night, the Men In Red have scored 12 times over their last five matches dating back to May 8. That total represents the most goals scored in MLS over that span, ahead of the 10 goals scored by LAFC and the nine from Philadelphia and Real Salt Lake. Sapong has scored in two straight matches -- upping his team-high total to six goals -- but he hasn't done it alone. 10 different Fire players have contributed at least one goal so far in 2019, a number topped only by three teams with 11 goal-scorers (Minnesota, Philadelphia, and Vancouver) and the New York Red Bulls with 15.
de Boer had this to say of the Fire attack ahead of Saturday night:
“I think it is, by far, along with LAFC, the most attacking team of MLS. Most shots on goal, more created chances. They have really good players like (Francisco) Calvo and (Bastian) Schweinsteiger in the back. They always look for football solutions. (Their) midfield is also capable to play on the ground, and (Aleksandar) Katai is, for me, a very impressive player … and Gaitan. If you can try to stop those four players you already achieved a lot … It is a very nice team to watch. They’re composed, easiness to play on the ground. If you’re not 100% focused and not being prepared to really put them under pressure, they will outplay you. It is a very tough opponent.”
Saturday’s match marks the Fire’s last MLS regular season contest until a June 22 visit from Real Salt Lake at SeatGeek Stadium. The three-week break will include a pair of departures for international duty, as midfielders Przemysław Frankowski (Poland) and Aleksandar Katai (Serbia) will head overseas to compete in UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying. In addition, both Mihailović (U.S.A.) and Calvo (Costa Rica) have been named to their country's respective preliminary rosters for the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup which begins June 15.
Saturday’s match against Atlanta United will mark the first contest between the two sides in 2019, and the Fire’s third match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium across all competitions since it opened in late 2017. Last season, the Men in Red claimed its first win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in a 1-0 victory in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 on June 20, before falling 2-1 in their first regular season visit to the stadium on Oct. 21.