With each win the Chicago Fire continue to prove that this year’s team is among the league’s best.
The Fire added another win on Saturday, beating Atlanta United FC 2-0. It is the Fire’s sixth straight win at home, improved the team’s record at Toyota Park to 7-0-1 this season and extended the current unbeaten run to eight games.
It also was an important sign of improvement for the team after the Fire (8-3-4, 28 points) were crushed 4-0 at Atlanta (5-6-3, 18 points) back in March, the last game before Bastian Schweinsteiger joined the team.
Both teams had chances in the first half, but the Fire got the first breakthrough. David Accam got behind Atlanta’s defense on a long ball and dribbled around goalkeeper Alec Kann in a scramble situation. Atlanta’s defense got back in position, but Kann was still out of his goal. After a number of dekes and fakes, Accam finally found Luis Solignac, who scored into the open net in the 29th minute.
The Fire played on the counter with Atlanta controlling over 60 percent of the possession. Accam had a number of chances on the counter, but only converted with the assist to Solignac. Nemanja Nikolic also hit the post on a shot in the first half.
"I think we missed a little bit to score one more goal in the first half," Schweinsteiger said. "We had very good opportunities, unfortunately we couldn’t play it out well enough to maybe score a second in the first (half). In the second (half) I think we also had very good situations to score a goal. Other than that we are very pleased with three points."
The Fire added to the lead in the second half when a handball was called in the box following an Accam corner kick. Nemanja Nikolic padded his league-leading goal total (12) by converting the penalty.
The second goal seemed to be the backbreaker for Atlanta, which had been pressing for the equalizing goal, but didn’t create much after going down two goals. Schweinsteiger and coach Veljko Paunovic both admitted it wasn't a pretty win, but it ended up being a fairly comfortable win.
"It was hard, it wasn’t joga bonito, but it was a game to win, and we did,” Paunovic said. “It’s always important to keep the clean sheet and to be the team, especially when you play at home to feel like you’re playing in your fortress. I think right now we kind of have that feeling."
Atlanta started the match without two of its best players. Leading scorer Miguel Almiron came off the bench after playing for Paraguay in a friendly on Thursday. Josef Martinez also returned to action as a sub. The last time Martinez played was against the Fire in March, a game in which he scored two goals.
Dax McCarty was out for the Fire. The key midfielder has been one of the biggest reasons for the team's improvement this season. He is still with the U.S. national team. Juninho started in his place, his first start in over a month.
“The good thing about our roster this year is that we have options," Paunovic said. "We can play different systems, we can play with different formations, different players."
The Fire are now one point behind Toronto FC (8-2-5, 29 points) for the best record in Major League Soccer and have an eight-point cushion ahead of the playoff cutoff in the Eastern Conference. The team already has one more win than all of last year.
“We look good, we look solid, but this is not done," Paunovic said. "Like we always say, we don’t want to constrain now, but we have to be smart in managing the rest of the season."
On Wednesday, the Fire begin play in the U.S. Open Cup with a trip to Saint Louis FC.