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
The Chicago Fire got a spark from four points in two road games, but Atlanta United FC knocked the team a step back and provided a reminder that there’s still plenty of work for the Fire to do.
Atlanta won 2-1 at Toyota Park on Saturday with second-half goals from Ezequiel Barco and Josef Martinez. The loss comes after the Fire beat the New York Red Bulls and tied Toronto FC on the road.
“Obviously when you lose, it’s always a step back, but … we played against a very good team today and we have to accept it,” Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger said. “Also, they have very good players and a squad on the field.”
Schweinsteiger and coach Veljko Paunovic both spoke of missed chances in the first half for the Fire. The biggest miss was Elliot Collier skying an open shot from inside the box in the 14th minute. The Fire went into halftime without a shot on target.
Then, in the second half, a turnover from Mo Adams set up an Atlanta counter that led to Barco’s first goal since joining Atlanta in the winter. Four minutes later Martinez doubled the lead off of some slick passing in the box.
Kevin Ellis scored his first goal with the Fire to make it a close finish, but the Fire didn’t have a second consecutive comeback in them.
Atlanta’s talented, and expensive, attack did what it has been doing to teams lately. The win extended Atlanta’s unbeaten run to eight matches and put it at the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings.
“They put a lot of money in the squad,” Schweinsteiger said. “To buy a player like Barco for $15 million, I think this is unusual. You see they have a lot of good players. Also, very good players on the bench. They are one of the best teams in the league.”
This was the Fire’s second straight home loss and third of the season, which is more than last year’s regular season total. It took just five matches to eclipse that mark.
In a wider view, the Fire’s 1-1-1 record in the past three games against expected playoff teams isn’t bad. That’s especially true when considering the Fire’s slow start before that meant the team needed points.
“I think we can be proud of ourselves over the last three games and take that to the next game to Montreal to get three points,” defender Johan Kappelhof said.