Fire seek to even score against Atlanta United (Jun 10, 2017)

Fire seek to even score against Atlanta United (Jun 10, 2017)

Published Jun. 9, 2017 10:43 p.m. ET

Perpetual Eastern Conference doormat Chicago just might be the biggest surprise so far this season.

The Fire have risen from the cellar, where they finished last in 2016, and now sit in second place in the East.

And even though expansion Atlanta United sits below the red line, the Five Stripes are off to a strong start in their inaugural season. Just ask the Fire, who fell 4-0 to Atlanta when the clubs met March 18.

The Fire get their chance at revenge on Saturday when Atlanta (5-5-3) travels to Bridgeview, Ill., to take on Chicago (7-3-4).


Chicago will be gunning for its seventh straight unbeaten match.

But Chicago will be without Dax McCarty, who joined the U.S. men's national team. The Fire still have plenty of firepower, as does Atlanta, which is the only team to average more than two goals per game.

Sparking Chicago's uprising this season has been Nemanja Nikolic, the MLS Player of the Month for May. He leads the Fire with 11 goals, and with David Accam supplying seven goals and four assists, Chicago boasts a potent offense.

Atlanta also boasts a high-flying offense, led by Miguel Almiron, who leads the Five Stripes with seven goals. Youngsters Yamil Asad and Julian Gressel play with a poise that belies their youth. The duo have combined for 12 assists.

Then there's Bastian Schweinsteiger, who transferred from Manchester United in March, just days after the Fire lost to Atlanta.

The former German star has two goals in four matches for Chicago.

"He's been doing what he's been doing for such a long time at such a high level that the game slows down for him," Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "He makes the easy things look really simple and the hard things look easy."

"We have to take special care and be aware of what he does on the field because he can unlock you pretty quickly," said Gressel, adding that back in Germany, Schweinsteiger is adored and respected like Kobe Bryant was in the NBA.

"He is one of the legends in Germany, especially in this era because he's won a World Cup" Gressel said. "He's played unbelievably great. He's been a leader not just for Bayern, but for the national team. He's just a tremendous player."

A bad taste still lingers from that March loss for Chicago, which played short-handed for nearly 79 minutes after defender Johan Kappelhof was given a red card after taking down Josef Martinez in front of the box at the 11-minute mark.

For Atlanta, that win wasn't diminished. In fact, coach Tata Martino embraced the victory and told reporters, "In the last game, we caused them to go down to 10 men by us having a one-on-one and drawing a foul, so it wasn't as if it was undeserved."


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