Atlanta United will try to increase its unbeaten streak to eight games when it visits the Chicago Fire on Saturday evening at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill.
Atlanta (6-1-1) has scored a league-high 21 goals this season while surrendering only nine. The club has gone 6-0-1 since dropping its opening match at Houston.
Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez are tied for the league lead with six goals apiece for Atlanta. After the season opener, the team has scored multiple goals in six of its past seven games.
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The success has created a crunch for playing time for coach Gerardo Martino, who might play striker Hector Villalba and defender Franco Escobar off the bench despite their impressive resumes. Both players are on the outside looking in after recovering from early season injuries.
“When you are in a stretch like that, sometimes it’s tough to make too many modifications other than what’s really necessary,” Martino said to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Even though we have a lot of great attacking players, we aren’t going to play with 10 attackers. … We just have to make the team as balanced as possible.”
Meanwhile, Chicago (2-3-2) could use another win on its home field as it tries to recover from an up-and-down start to the season. The Fire have at least one point in four of the last five games as they look to build upon last season’s brief postseason appearance.
“We have a great opponent in Atlanta, it’s one of the best teams and another hard week for us, hard challenge and test for this group,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic told the team’s official website. “But this group is growing, this group is getting better, it’s building, getting points and good results and capable of playing two away games against two very difficult (teams).”
“The mood is pretty good,” Fire midfielder Dax McCarty said. “We feel really good about the second half that we played against Toronto, the adjustments that we made in the game, and being able to fight back against the champions and scrap out a good result. …
“We’re just trying to build the momentum. We’ve got character, we’ve got attitude, we’ve got guys that are willing to roll up the sleeves and never give up. That’s always a good quality to have in a team.”
For Atlanta, midfielder Kevin Kratz is third on the team behind Almiron and Martinez with two goals. Five players have one goal apiece, including Julian Gressel, Greg Garza, Romario Williams, Chris McCann and Villalba.
Almioron leads Atlanta with four assists, and Gressel is next with three.
Chicago is 1-2-1 at home; Atlanta is 2-1-0 on the road.
Last season, Atlanta United cruised to a 4-0 victory over the Fire at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Georgia. The Fire gained revenge June 10 with a 2-0 win.