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Match Storylines pres. by NovaCare: Fire prepare for midweek visit from Atlanta United FC

The Chicago Fire return home Wednesday night for a meeting with reigning MLS Cup Champions Atlanta United FC (7 p.m. CT, ESPN+ | TICKETS).

Having already met once this season in Atlanta, read up on what to expect from round two with the #CHIvATL Match Storylines, presented by NovaCare:

Form Guide

Atlanta United (9-6-2, 29 points) enter Wednesday night’s visit to SeatGeek Stadium on the heels of a 2-1 home win against the Montreal Impact. Midfielder Justin Meram netted a brace on the night, his first two goals for Atlanta since being acquired by the team in early May. The win moved head coach Frank de Boer’s side up to fourth place in the Eastern Conference through 17 matches played. Atlanta has picked up wins in three of its last four matches overall, but have suffered defeats in its last three road matches.

The Fire (4-7-7, 19 points) will look to rebound from a 3-1 defeat to the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena on the weekend. Forward Nemanja Nikolić got his sixth goal of the season, a total that shares the team lead with CJ Sapong. The Fire are unbeaten in their last seven matches at home (4-0-3), dating back to a 1-0 win on March 30 against the Red Bulls.

"We're happy to be back at home on Wednesday, where we've been pretty strong the last couple of weeks, the last couple of months," Fire captain Dax McCarty said. "The best news is that we play one of the best teams in the league, so we can't feel sorry for ourselves. We have to dust ourselves off and get ready for a big test."

50 Goals

Nikolić’s goal in the 81st minute of Saturday night’s match in New Jersey marked his 50th in all competitions for the Fire since joining the Club ahead of the 2017 season. The finish was his sixth of 2019, his 45th overall in MLS regular season play, and totals 50 when paired with his five goals scored in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

"I'm really happy about that," Nikolić said of the goal. "I'm two-and-a-half years at the Club and I think this number is really good, and is pushing me forward to do things in the same way I have until now. I want to say thanks to my teammates, the coaching staff, supporters, the people in the Club who've believed in me from day one."

The 50 goals scored across all competitions is the third-highest total all-time for the Fire. Ante Razov leads the Club’s scoring charts at 95 goals, followed by Chris Rolfe at 55.

Tournament Returns

With both the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup and the 2019 Copa America tournament entering their respective final stages, Chicago and Atlanta will each have players returning from international duty.

For the Fire, defender Francisco Calvo and his Costa Rica side were defeated by Mexico in a penalty shootout on Saturday. Calvo entered the match in extra time and scored on his penalty attempt, but Los Ticos were ultimately undone 5-4 in the shootout. Calvo returns to Chicago with his availability for Wednesday night’s match to be determined. Midfielder Djordje Mihailović remains with the U.S. Men’s National Team ahead of their Gold Cup semifinal meeting with Jamaica on Wednesday, July 3.

Like Calvo, Atlanta forward Josef Martinez will return to his club after his Venezuelan team was eliminated from the Copa America in the quarterfinals by a 2-0 scoreline to Argentina. Martinez’s status for Wednesday night’s match in Chicago is also unknown.

Ajax Origins

The careers of Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof and Atlanta's de Boer will intersect yet again on Wednesday night. Kappelhof played for de Boer as part of Eredivisie powerhouse Ajax's vaunted youth system. Kappelhof and de Boer both joined up with the Ajax Under-19 team -- Kappelhof as a player and de Boer has head coach -- in July of 2008. Kappelhof played for de Boer for one season before moving up to the Ajax Under-21 team the following summer.

Kappelhof is listed as questionable for Wednesday's match with a thigh injury.

#CHIvATL All-Time

Wednesday’s game marks the second meeting between the Fire and Atlanta United in 2019. The two teams previously faced each other at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on June 1, with Atlanta United winning 2-0.

Atlanta holds the head-to-head series lead with a 4-1-0 record against the Fire since entering the league in 2017.