The Chicago Fire won a sixth straight game at Toyota Park on Saturday, beating Atlanta 2-0.
The consensus from the Fire was that it wasn't the prettiest game or performance, but the Fire made some adjustments to Atlanta's style. The Fire limited Atlanta's chances in possession despite giving the visitors most of the time on the ball, and were able to create chances on the counter by beating Atlanta's high defensive line.
Here's a look at how David Accam created those chances against the high line, and what happened after, and a deeper look at Michael de Leeuw's willingness to do the little things.
Playing against Atlanta’s high line
As expected, the Fire were unable to win the midfield battle against Atlanta. The visitors controlled possession throughout, but didn’t have the killer instinct in front of goal with the team’s top two scorers, Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez, coming off the bench.
Atlanta’s possession style also includes a high defensive line. Playing a high defensive line against a team featuring David Accam is a risky move, and it burned Atlanta.
Accam got behind Atlanta’s defense on a number of occasions. After have a majority of the possession in the last four matches and seven of the last nine, Saturday’s game showed the Fire have multiple ways to beat teams.
David Accam’s chances
Once Accam got behind Atlanta’s defense it was a bit of a mixed bag. The Ghanaian had four quality counterattack chances and only one of them led to a shot on goal. The one that did lead to a shot was the opening goal.
In the 24th minute he passed to Nemanja Nikolic in the box when it appeared he should have shot it himself, which was the first of some questionable decisions. Five minutes later, though, he got it right.
The goal was a bizarre sequence because it looked like the opportunity had passed once Atlanta’s defense recovered, but Accam did well to not force something and wound up with a very high percentage shot for Luis Solignac.
In the second half, Accam just missed connecting with Nikolic with a centering ball when the Hungarian couldn’t reach the pass after sliding for it. Accam could have played it earlier and let Nikolic do the heavy lifting in the finish. Instead Accam tried to do the work for him and give Nikolic a tap in. Nikolic wasn’t in position for the centering ball that Accam played.
In the final 10 minutes of the match Accam had another 2v2 situation with Nikolic. He tried to pass this one, but maybe could have been more aggressive off the dribble.
Other than the goal, it seemed no matter what Accam decided it wasn’t working. Still, he was able to create four quality chances and converted one. On another day, the Fire will need him to be more efficient, but the upside for the Fire is that he was in position to create those chances.
Michael de Leeuw getting credit for the little things
How does a forward win man of the match without a goal, an assist or even a shot on target? Michael de Leeuw showed how on Saturday.
The Dutch forward wasn’t involved in either Fire goal and didn’t have many scoring chances. However, he did a lot of dirty work.
Bastian Schweinsteiger and coach Veljko Paunovic both said it wasn’t a pretty performance from the Fire. In order to win a game without a pretty performance, players will have do the little things well.
De Leeuw did a lot of those little things and got some recognition for it.
After moving from an attacking role to more of a midfield role, including some time on the right side as opposed to his more familiar central position, de Leeuw has played better.
“It’s a different role and of course I have to adjust,” de Leeuw said after the match. “In the beginning I was not playing very well. I think I’m playing very well now.”
De Leeuw completed 15 out of 21 passes and none of them created chances, but he was credited with five ball recoveries, two clearances and an interception. It probably wasn’t a man of the match worthy performance, but perhaps it was along the lines of a lifetime achievement award from the voting fans who have appreciated the little things de Leeuw does.
He wasn't one of the four Fire players named to the MLS Team of the Week, a week which featured only three matches to pick that team from. Nikolic, Accam, Schweinsteiger and Joao Meira were given credit along with Paunovic as the coach.