Atlanta United FC

Early goal, red card lead to lopsided loss for Fire in Atlanta

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USA TODAY

Early goal, red card lead to lopsided loss for Fire in Atlanta

In a match between two upstart teams in the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Fire fell short in the early test.

The Fire gave up an early goal, suffered a red card soon after and were overwhelmed in a 4-0 loss in Atlanta's sold out Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday.

Atlanta midfielder Julian Gressel hit a low cross from the right in the fourth minute that bounced off Brandon Vincent and went into the goal.

The start to the match went from bad to disastrous when Johan Kappelhof was given a red card in the 11th minute. Kappelhof pulled down Josef Martinez and was ruled to be the last defender to deny a scoring opportunity. As a result, he was given the red.

Jonathan Campbell replaced Arturo Alvarez a few minutes later to give the Fire (1-1-1, 4 points) a full four-man back line the rest of the way.

Atlanta (2-1, 6 points) thoroughly dominated possession the rest of the match, but struggled to put shots on target. Despite nearly 83 percent possession in the first half, Atlanta had just one shot on target to the Fire's two.

However, the home team put the match away in the 60th minute. Highly paid designated player Miguel Almiron threaded a pass through multiple defenders to Martinez, who beat the offside trap, dribbled around goalkeeper Jorge Bava and scored into an open net.

Hector Villalba pounced on a loose ball in the box in the 67th minute to make it 3-0 and the rout was on.

Martinez scored his second goal with an impressive pair of touches. He knocked a through ball around Bava with his first touch and scored from a very tight angle to finish off the scoring.

Already down a goal, the Fire were practically out of the game when Kappelhof was sent off and Atlanta finally converted all the possession into goals in the second half. Atlanta finished with 83 percent possession for the match.

Fire forward Michael de Leeuw suffered a hamstring injury in training on Friday and was not with the team for Saturday's match. Luis Solignac took his spot in the starting lineup, which was the only change from last week's 2-0 win against Real Salt Lake.

Next weekend is an international break. The Fire next play at home on April 1 against Montreal.

Fire to get early season test in Atlanta

Fire to get early season test in Atlanta

It hasn't taken long for Atlanta United to make an impression in MLS.

The expansion team spent a lot of money on its roster, is selling out Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium and leads the league in goals scored through two weekends.

Atlanta will provide the Chicago Fire with an early season test on Saturday. Both upstart teams are hoping to break into the postseason and Saturday's match in Atlanta will be a good early measuring stick.

"It's going to be a tough game," said Fire forward Michael de Leeuw, who said he watched both of Atlanta's games. "Full stadium I hope. And they're new. What they showed to now is good football. We're enjoying to go play against them, but we also started well so we're not scared or anything. I think it's going to be a great game."

Atlanta put up a six spot on Minnesota last Saturday in Minnesota's home opener in snow. Josef Martinez had a hat trick and Miguel Almiron had two goals and an assist. Those two 23-year-olds will be key players to watch for Atlanta, but they're not the only talents on the team.

Hector Villalba and Yamil Asad, a pair of 22-year-old, speedy South American attackers, will also put the Fire's defense under pressure.

"Obviously they like going forward as fast as possible," midfielder Arturo Alvarez said. "We just got to make sure that we're organized defensively. At the same time I think we can hurt them. They will make turnovers. We just got to make sure that we're taking advantage of those."

[RELATED: Trip to Atlanta starts key four-game stretch for Fire]

While Atlanta's speed in attack definitely caught the attention of Fire players, so did the crowd of more than 55,000 for the season opener against the New York Red Bulls, a 2-1 win for the Red Bulls.

"The fans, the first game I watched on TV, looked pretty wild so I think the guys are looking forward to the fight and the challenge," defender Brandon Vincent said.

The challenge is stopping a talented team with a big crowd despite the Fire's lack of road success in the past two years. The Fire have one win on the road since the start of the 2015 season, although the season opened with a 1-1 draw at Columbus.

"Obviously they have an attacking-oriented team," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "They have very fast players, pace, control of the ball, high technical skills in their players. So it's going to be a very, very difficult game for us."

Expect the Fire to have a similar, if not identical, starting lineup to the one against Real Salt Lake last weekend. Matt Polster remains out with a knee injury, as is forward David Arshakyan (quad). Defender Zach Loyd is the only listed injury for Atlanta.