BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — When things aren’t going well, it helps for the other team to gift wrap a goal, or three.
The Chicago Fire, winless in seven matches, scored an early goal and then added another, and another while Atlanta United FC had a player sent off in the 12th minute. The Fire had put the match away before it really got going.
The game was over in less than 15 minutes and the Fire cruised to a 5-1 win on Wednesday at SeatGeek Stadium. Atlanta gave up five goals for the first time in its history.
From the opening whistle, the Fire (5-7-7, 22 points) were all over Atlanta (9-7-2, 29 points), which looked disinterested to play a midweek road game on a hot night.
“I can’t say that there is anything that this team didn’t show in the past or last games except execution,” Fire coach Veljko Paunović said. “In the first half it was almost perfect.”
Francisco Calvo scored on a free header on a Nicolás Gaitán corner kick in the fourth minute.
Then, just three minutes later, C.J. Sapong took advantage of a misplay by Atlanta defender Leandro González Pirez on a Gaitán diagonal ball. Sapong was alone in front of goal and made the sequence even uglier for Atlanta by nutmegging goalkeeper Brad Guzan on the shot.
Atlanta’s humiliation was complete when Aleksandar Katai drew a handball from a sliding González Pirez. After video review, a penalty kick was awarded and González Pirez was ejected.
Gaitan converted the penalty to make it 3-0 and a man advantage for the Fire in less than 13 minutes.
“It’s not explainable,” Atlanta coach Frank de Boer said. “Every aspect of the game, we weren’t there. Of course I have to blame myself first because I have to prepare them. We have to be ashamed for those 45 minutes, for our fans. We come here and we were really embarrassing today, especially the first half of course.”
Jul 3, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Fire defender Francisco Calvo (5) celebrates with midfielder Dax McCarty (6) after scoring against Atlanta United during the first half at Bridgeview Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
De Boer raised the white flag by subbing out Pity Martínez in the 18th minute. Leading scorer Josef Martínez was not available as he returns from his Copa America run with Venezuela.
Sapong added another goal and Fabian Herbers also scored before halftime. The five goals were the most in a half in Chicago Fire history.
“It doesn’t cure everything,” Fire midfielder Dax McCarty said. “Obviously it doesn’t make up for the whole first half of the season, but I mean it felt like we exorcised a few demons, didn’t it?
“It’s always frustrating when you lose games when you feel like you should win, but we were creating the chances. I would be way more concerned if we weren’t and still losing. I know it’s been tough for our team and for our fans to be patient, but we’re right there. We dug ourselves a little bit of a hole, but it’s not catastrophic. We’re not out of it by any means. We’re going to pick up some confidence from this.”
Even with the win the Fire remained outside the playoff spots. Toronto FC, which holds the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, is still a point ahead of the Fire and play at FC Dallas on the Fourth of July.
Brandon Vazquez gave Atlanta a consolation goal in the second half. He earned a penalty on a counter and converted it himself.
Paunović was frustrated his team lost the second half. That put a more negative tone in his press conference than would normally be seen from a 5-1 win.
“At the end of the day what we all want to see is the final result, which today was great, but, again, I want more,” Paunović said.
The key for the Fire will be turning the win into some momentum and not just another strange midweek MLS result.
“It’s been a while unfortunately, but I think the guys deserved it,” Herbers said. “We put a lot into all the other games, too, where we didn’t get the result, where it didn’t turn out our way. This time it finally did and hopefully the luck turns a little bit and we can keep it going against Kansas City on Saturday.”