The 2017 MLS calendar rolls into its fourth month and the Chicago Fire are in a playoff position. The Men In Red have the league’s top goalscorer and a World Cup champion in their ranks. Year two of the Nelson Rodriguez and Veljko Paunovic era in Chicago has been one of big headlines and improved quality. On Saturday, this turnaround team have the opportunity to make amends against the team that handed the Fire their worst result of 2017. The new expansion side, Atlanta United handed Chicago a 4-0 loss when they visited in March.
Nikolic confident in patient Chicago Fire
Ahead of the rematch with Atlanta, May’s MLS player of the month and first year Fire striker Nemanja Nikolic spoke highly of his teams chances. “[Saturday] is going to be a huge game. We have something to prove against them because we got [our] biggest loss in Atlanta when we got that red card early in the game. Atlanta is good with quality players and a great coach on the bench. But if we play our style of the game, we dominate, we pass around the ball patiently, we can get a good result”.
The Hungarian International is setting the MLS goal scoring pace with 11 goals in 14 games. The former Legia Warsaw man has been producing at a high level whilst learning a new league which features many unique nuances. “I learned in the past few months that in this league there is no sure win or lose game” Nikolic says. “In Poland or Hungary if Legia or Videoton played against a weaker team the question was: what will be the difference? In MLS the underdog can get huge results”.
Atlanta will test unbeaten run
The Fire are unbeaten in six straight games and unbeaten in Toyota Park in 2017. Atlanta will threaten to end this run. The first year expansion club has started off their MLS life in style. Atlanta United are the top scoring team in the league and host a number of talented young players. They will be without veteran striker Kenwyne Jones who is on international duty with Trinidad and Tobago. More importantly, Atlanta’s starlet midfielder Miguel Almiron may have a reduced role against Saturday. The dynamic playmaker was called up to play for his native Paraguay in an exhibition match against Peru on Thursday. Atlanta are expecting Almiron to join the team for the meeting with Chicago but a full 90 minutes from the 23 year old would be surprising.
Juninho expected to return
This week should see the return of Juninho to the Fire starting lineup. The Brazilian missed last week’s goal free game in Orlando as he welcomed a new addition to his family. His defensive midfield pairing with Bastian Schweinsteiger will be very important to the Fire with McCarty away on international duty.
Juninho has yet to start in the current Fire system which has Michael de Leeuw as the most forward midfielder. Fire fans will hope they can build a similar chemistry to which Bastian and McCarty have. Juninho should give the Fire a little more strength and consistent passing in the center of the Field. The multiple MLS cup winner has the experience and poise to give the Fire an edge over the young gunning Atlanta United.