BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — The Chicago Fire’s 5-1 blowout win over Atlanta United FC on Wednesday was one of the most surprising scorelines of the MLS season, but was it a momentum changer for the Fire or simply another strange midweek result?
The Fire entered with a seven-match winless streak. The 2019 season was looking like another lost summer in Chicagoland.
Atlanta was without two of its best players in Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco, but even without them should have put up a better fight. The visitors simply didn’t seem interested from the opening whistle. Sometimes that happens in MLS.
The Fire have already had convincing home wins this season. They beat Colorado 4-1 on April 20. On May 8, New England lost 5-0 in SeatGeek Stadium and Brad Friedel lost his coaching job after that one. The next game, the Fire beat Minnesota United FC 2-0 in a game that wasn’t as close as the scoreline.
Those games left the Fire with positive feelings, but none of those three are viewed as MLS stalwarts. Colorado, New England and Minnesota having stinkers on the road isn’t surprising. The defending MLS Cup champs doing so was.
So what does it mean?
“We all know that even though we had a good result today here, we all know that we have to get better,” coach Veljko Paunović said. “There are many things to improve. It was a very important step forward for the team.”
The Fire’s recent slump created some separation from the top spots in the Eastern Conference. The Fire are eight points behind third-place Montreal and five points from sixth-place New York Red Bulls. Teams in fourth, fifth and sixth also all have at least one game in hand on the Fire.
Seventh place is close (Toronto is one point ahead with a game in hand), but competition for the last playoff spot won’t be easy with plenty of teams in the mix.
Here’s the positive for the Fire: the next three games are all winnable. On Saturday, the Fire head to a struggling Sporting Kansas City side. The Fire are winless on the road (the only team in the league that can still say that), but Sporting just gave up five at home to league-leading Los Angeles FC. The next two are home games against Cincinnati and Columbus, the bottom two teams in the Eastern Conference.
If the Fire are going to make a run, this is the time.
“We have a lot of games in July and we can make up a lot of ground, but we have to keep going,” midfielder Dax McCarty said. “We can’t get complacent now because obviously everyone knows if we do, we have very, very little margin for error.”