May 5, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (7) before the game against the Chicago Fire at Bridgeview Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta United FC showed how good the team is in a 2-1 win against the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park. The loss knocked the Fire back after consecutive positive performances and results on the road.
Here are three things we learned from the match:
Atlanta is good
This might be nothing new to Atlanta fans or MLS fans who have watched plenty of this team, but it’s true. Miguel Almiron was a terror every time he was on the ball. He looked to use his impressive speed to burn defenders throughout the game. Almiron seemed like he could take on the Fire by himself at times.
Throw in Josef Martinez, who scored the second goal, and Ezequiel Barco, who scored his first MLS goal with the first goal of the game, and this team is a force to be reckoned with. The Fire aren’t a bad team, but they weren’t good enough to hold off Atlanta on Saturday.
Atlanta has an eight-match unbeaten streak and has taken over the best record in the league. Toronto FC still has claim as the most talented team in the league because the sheen of its treble last season and Concacaf Champions League final run haven’t worn off yet — but Atlanta looks like a serious challenger to the throne.
Jonathan Campbell at forward?
If you don’t follow the Fire, this might not be that outrageous to you. However, the Fire put centerback Jonathan Campbell up top late in the match in an effort to get the tying goal.
The 6-foot-2 Campbell played at forward in what no longer resembled an actual formation. Instead, it was a way to get as many bodies forward as possible. After the game, coach Veljko Paunovic was asked about the sub and the move.
“We needed somebody that can play in aerial duels because we had enough pieces on the field who can move the ball side-to-side,” Paunovic said. “With Campbell in the box we wanted to commit more defenders to have Alan [Gordon] at least playing 1-on-1 against their defenders and not against two all the time. That was the purpose.”
Whether or not this is a sound strategy is secondary to the fact that the Fire don’t have a lot of attacking options right now. Michael de Leeuw, who shared the team lead in assists last year, is still out with a torn ACL suffered late last season. Luis Solignac has been out since the second game of the season with a quad injury.
Those absences have led to limited options and situations in which a defender (Campbell) is used as a forward in desperate times. Rumors of Fernando Torres being close to signing with the Fire would alleviate this problem, although Paunovic denied all rumors after the game.
Ezequiel Barco’s first goal
A heavy price tag means plenty of expectations. The reported $15-million transfer fee Atlanta paid for the young Argentine meant Barco had to deliver.
Barco missed Atlanta’s first five matches due to injury. Saturday was his third start and his first goal.
The goal came on a first touch finish with his left foot and opened up the game. Two more goals followed in the next 10 minutes, one for each team, but Barco’s seal-breaker was huge.
If the teenager is to live up to his price tag, Saturday’s game could be the start of something big.