With the victory, the Fire leapfrogged Atlanta in the Eastern Conference standings, and now occupy the 10th and final playoff spot. Along with the 4-0 win over Houston on Wednesday, it marks the Fire’s first two-game winning streak of the season, and it’s three wins out of five matches at home.
“From the beginning, we wanted to come in and make [Soldier Field] our fortress,” Fire defender Jonathan Bornstein said following the win. “When teams get over here, they’re scared to play us here, they know it’s always gonna be a tough game, and it’s a place where we always want to get three points.”
Herbers put the Fire ahead in the seventh minute. He slightly bobbled a ball from Gastón Giménez, settled it, and beat Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan to make it 1-0. Herbers has now scored in four of the Fire’s five home matches this season. Giménez created the play by winning the ball and quickly passing it in to a streaking Herbers.
“One of their central midfielders received the ball with his back turned,” Giménez explained. “When he controlled it, I noticed the ball went forward. So that’s when I stepped in, and was able to take the ball, move it forward, and pass it for Fabi, who was already looking toward the goal.”
The trio of Giménez, Herbers and Álvaro Medrán dominated midfield play, especially in the first half. The Fire were in a 4-4-2 defensively, but morphed into a 4-2-3-1 on the attack, with a lot of interplay between the midfielders.
“There’s certain movements we want as a team, and those three understand each other quite well, and find the spaces. Fabi’s really good at finding these pockets, these spaces,” Fire Head Coach Raphael Wicky explained after the match.
Bobby Shuttleworth kept the Fire’s clean sheet going in the 19th minute, with the best of his five saves on the night, diving to his right to stop a point blank shot by Atlanta’s Adam Jahn.
The Fire doubled their lead in the 39th minute, when Djordje Mihailović found Robert Berić with a curling pass around an Atlanta defender to make it 2-0 heading into halftime. After a seven match goalless streak, Berić has now scored in the last four matches.
Atlanta looked dangerous at times during the second half, controlling more of the ball and getting into the Fire’s final third, but Shuttleworth and the Fire’s defense were able to keep the clean sheet, and give the Fire the victory.
“Look in football, tomorrow’s a new day,” Wicky said. “We have to keep working. That’s the beauty of this sport. You can enjoy. They should enjoy, but we cannot relax. There’s no reason for us to relax. We haven’t achieved anything.”
There’s no mid-week game for Chicago this week. Next up, the Fire travel to New Jersey to take on Thierry Henry’s Montreal Impact on Saturday, Oct. 3 (6:30 p.m. CT, WGN & ESPN+). Because of the difficulty traveling across the international border during the pandemic, Montreal has shifted its home matches to Red Bull Arena. The Fire lost there previously this season, 3-1 to another temporary tenant, NYCFC, back in August.
Chicago Fire FC: GK Shuttleworth, D Sekulić, D Pineda, D Calvo ©, D Bornstein (D Reynolds II 90+1’), M Mihailović (F Collier 79’), M Giménez, M Medrán, M Aliseda (D Navarro 79’), M Herbers (D Bronico 90+1’), F Berić (F Sapong 67’)
Subs not used: GK Slonina, M Azira, M Gutiérrez, D Omsberg
Atlanta United FC: GK Guzan, D Escobar, D Meza, D Lennon, D Bello, M Remedi, M Larentowicz © (M Adams 73’), M Hyndman, M Mulraney (M Castro 82’), F Jahn (F Wolff 65’), F Gallagher
Subs not used: GK Kann, D Walkes, D Castillo, M Wyke, D Campbell