Preview

Published on March 17th, 2017 | by Jeff Engelhardt

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Atlanta United vs Chicago Fire: The Musical Preview!

It has been 19 years since the Chicago Fire lit MLS on fire with a debut season for the ages. That year, the Men in Red announced their intention to be the class of the league for years to come by winning not only the MLS Cup but the U.S. Open Cup as well. Despite all the expansion that has occurred in the two decades since, Chicago remains the benchmark for what a club can accomplish in year one.

Enter the newest challenger to that crown: Atlanta United.

Filled with ambition from the jump, Atlanta United has backed up its talk to this point. The expansion side nearly defeated perennial power New York Red Bulls in its first match in front of 50,000 fans and then thrashed its expansion counterpart Minnesota United in the snow globe that was TCF Bank Stadium. Atlanta is talented and hungry and is quickly establishing a ferocious homefield advantage. Chicago will have its hands full Saturday, but a result is possible.

Some great preview coverage has already been provided here, here and here. So we’re going to preview this historic match (first MLS game to be streamed on Facebook) with a little twist. Atlanta has produced some of the best musical artists over the past 25+ years so we are going to celebrate that tradition while previewing the game. Here we go!

No better way to be welcomed to Atlanta then by MC Shy D. As mentioned above, Atlanta has become a factory of great music, especially in the rap genre, and this song helped lay that foundation in 1988. But back to the game. The home-field advantage is going to be the first hurdle to overcome. There could be 50,000 people at Bobby Dodd Stadium again and that’s a spectacle no matter who you are.

Atlanta United fans proved to be a raucous crowd, starting “the chant” on goal kicks and throwing a beer at a referee or Sacha Kljestan. To solve those issues, Atlanta United said it was extending alcohol sales from the 65-minute mark in a game to the 75-minute mark, because that makes sense. But they suggested their fans chant Hey Ya during goal kicks like they are in Outkast or something. I’m sure it will work.

As much as I like Matt Polster and enjoyed Razvan Cocis, the presence of Dax McCarty and Juninho should go a long way to calming the team in the hostile environment. I don’t think that would have been the case last year. And if reports are to be believed, Nemanja Nikolic just might thrive in the environment.

Pray for a miracle on the right side

This is really great advice from famed Atlanta rapper T.I. (and the quite good Lil Kim) to Michael Harrington. He just needs to do what the title says, because Atlanta is going to bring it and they are going to bring it right at Harrington. The combination of Greg Garza, Yamil Asad and Josef Martinez has been lethal this season. Harrington has struggled and this is going to be his biggest test.

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic would be wise to find ways to reinforce that side as much as possible with a mixture of Juninho, Arturo Alvarez and Johan Kappelhof. Harrington can’t do it alone, but even with help, he will need to have his best game of this young season if the Fire want to come away with at least a point.

Weather the storm

It’s going to get crazy and nerve-racking in Atlanta so, like Atlanta’s Killer Mike says, everybody stay calm. The Fire will be pressured a lot and there is not much that can be done to stop it. The key is keeping their shape and striking on the counter when it presents itself. Miguel Almiron, Asad, Martinez and Hector Villalba will have their moments. But Atlanta loves to deploy a high press and they can be caught.

It will be on Juninho and McCarty to keep the team together to absorb the pressure that will surely come. If they do it successfully, there will plenty of opportunity to expose Atlanta’s suspect defense with David Accam on the counter. Chicago center backs Joao Meira and Kappelhof have been playing at a high level, which should come in handy when Atlanta inevitably cracks the first line of defense. I fully expect Atlanta to pressure early and probably score the first goal. The key for the Fire is to remain calm and don’t let one become two. They’ll get their chances if they remain patient.

This needs to be an Accam game

This wouldn’t be a proper Atlanta musical preview without the tremendous Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. Untouchable is what the Fire needs Accam to be on Saturday. Over the years, Fire supporters have seen what Accam can do when he is performing at his absolute highest level. He is simply unstoppable. There is not a single defender in MLS that can handle Accam’s speed when he uses it with his skill. He really is untouchable during those moments.

So for as much as we are excited about Nikolic — and I think he could have a big contribution Saturday — it is still Accam who will need to unlock the Atlanta defense. United showed they are vulnerable in the New York game and the defensive shape can fall into disarray. Accam’s speed can create havoc in the back and open up looks for Nikolic and Michael de Leeuw. Considering the Fire will likely be absorbing pressure for much of the game, Accam’s speed on the counter is the greatest chance for success. Let’s hope he bring his A-game Saturday.

Prediction: Atlanta United 2, Chicago Fire 2

This should be a great game to watch and both teams will get their chances. I think Niko feeds off the hostile crowd and delivers a brace while the Fire break down just enough to let Almiron and Villalba get on the board.

 

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