Published on March 18th, 2017 | by Jeff Engelhardt0
Road Weary: Atlanta thrashes Chicago 4-0
A nightmare start for the Chicago Fire was too much to overcome Saturday in Atlanta as the Men in Red suffered their first loss of the season, falling 4-0.
Chicago’s script was ripped up before the game even started as it was announced Michael de Leeuw would be held out with a hamstring injury suffered in training Friday. The unexpected absence forced the Fire to slot in Luis Solignac up top with Nemanja Nikolic taking filling in where de Leeuw usually plays.
But de Leeuw wasn’t to be the only important member of the team to miss Saturday’s match. After conceding a quick score courtesy of a Brandon Vincent own-goal in the fourth minute, the Fire’s worst fears became reality when referee Jose Carlos Rivero pulled out the straight red on Johan Kappelhof who took down Josef Martinez right outside the box and denied a goal scoring opportunity in the 11th minute.
As Martinez would show later in the game, he very likely would have extended Atlanta’s lead to 2-0 on that opportunity had Kappelhof not pulled him down. The foul was created because of a poor throw in attempt meant for Juninho but easily intercepted by Julian Gressel who made the key pass to Martinez.
With Kappelhof hitting the showers early, coach Veljko Paunovic pulled Arturo Alvarez in order to bring in Jonathan Campbell. It didn’t take long to see that a Fire side with only 10 men and a midfield lacking de Leeuw and Alvarez was not going to threaten the goal very often.
To Chicago’s credit, it was able to hold off conceding again until the 60th minute despite relentless pressure from United. But the wheels fell off after close to an hour of defending seemingly nonstop as Atlanta possessed the ball a staggering 83 percent of the time and completed 870 passes.
Campbell, who was making his first appearance of the season, received a rude welcome to the 2017 campaign as he was involved in the next two goals. His seemingly innocent knockdown header in the 60th minute fell right to Miguel Almiron, who played an incredible pass to Martinez that split the retreating Campbell and Joao Meira. Martinez danced around Jorge Bava and made it 2-0 for the home side.
Seven minutes, later Hector Villalba would extend the lead to 3-0 after a pass toward the inside of the box deflected off Campbell and spilled to Villalba who smashed home the loose ball. Martinez put the icing on the cake with another great goal in the 82 minute, receiving the ball deep in the box and scoring from an incredibly difficult angle as he ran toward the end line.
Chicago managed only very modest chances, notably right before halftime with a header from Meira off a set piece and again in the 69th minute when a Michael Harrington cross found David Accam in the box, but Accam’s header was handled by United keeper Alec Kann.
It was an incredibly difficult game for the Fire, who will need to fix some issues and quickly restore the positive vibes with three home games coming up.
Watching a team play almost an entire game with 10 men makes it difficult to truly know if the poor result was a sign of a worrisome trend or just an unfortunate hiccup on the way to brighter days. Analyzing the performance is even more difficult considering it was the team’s best defender that was sent off and it was missing one of its most important midfielders.
What is true though is the Fire put themselves in that position and that is concerning enough. They did not start with 10 men, they ended up their because they could not disrupt Atlanta’s possession and they made inexcusable mistakes like the poor throw in that started the whole sequence.
Despite the improvement in talent on the roster in 2017, the team is going to struggle to get far if it plays undisciplined on the road.
The 13-day break between games might be coming at the perfect time for Chicago. The season is incredibly young and there is no reason to think the club is not capable of maintaining and building on what we saw against Real Salt Lake and the second half in Columbus.
There is ample time to learn from Saturday’s match, flush it and get mentally prepared for the crucial three-game home stand. At 1-1-1 through three games, there is no need to panic, despite how ugly Saturday became.