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Atlanta United 3, Chicago Fire 1: What We Learned

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Here are Ruben’s takeaways from Saturday’s Loss

MLS: Chicago Fire at Atlanta United FC Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the result being largely expected, the Fire’s loss against Atlanta United still left me with a lot of things to talk about. Here’s what we learned from the 3-1 defeat.

The Fire Don’t Have The X-Factor

Ezequiel Barco absolutely ruined the Fire. The Fire defended his free-kick about as well as they could. The wall did its job blocking the initial strike, but it was hit so hard it came back to him and he hit an early contender for goal of the year to put the team up 1-0. From there, Atlanta was able to take the game by the horns and endure a Fire push early in the second half to take 3 points. For Atlanta United, Barco is That Guy. The player you can count on to take control and win games for your club.

it’s clear from watching both teams play at the same time that The Fire doesn’t have That Guy. They haven’t really had That Guy since Blanco left, and it’s apparent—or should be apparent to everyone involved—that the team needs someone who can reliably find an inch of space and put the ball in the back of the net. In order to get to that next level, the Fire need a guy like Barco, and not signing one in the offseason was a big mistake.

Wicky Doesn’t Trust His Kids

The other big mistake was not signing more depth incase the worst happened and you had to choose between not making substitutions and putting in unproven teenagers to try and make a come back and take points on the road against one of the best teams in the east. I respect Wicky’s reasoning for not wanting to play them, but at the same time, you have to ask some questions of the brain trust.

The first question I have is “why are they on the bench if you’re not going to use them?” One of the biggest peeves I have with soccer managers and soccer, in general, is the appearance of players on the bench the coach has no plans of playing at all. I know you can’t play everyone, but everyone on the bench should be ready to come into the game and perform at a reasonable level. In a game like on Saturday, the Fire needed something towards the end of the second half, and not having anyone on the bench who could come in and do the job is an indictment of both the coaching staff and technical staff.

The second question is ”If you knew the kids wouldn’t be ready to play, why did you not bring in more experienced players in the offseason?” Injuries are a part of the game, and while it’s unfortunate that everyone is injured at the same time, management should have been prepared for this eventuality. Four signings was not enough entering training camp, and the lack of playable depth is a big problem. The technical staff is to blame for the inability to change the game midway through substitutions. This brings us to observation three.

There’s A Deeper Problem With The Defense

Throughout the pandemic, one thing I got used to seeing— or rather hearing, were teams communicating with each other. It was always interesting to see which teams were good at talking to each other and organizing on defense and what the Fire were doing. Despite the return of in-person fans, it’s still possible to hear the goings-on on the backline... if your team is actually talking to one another. On the Kappelhof own goal that put Atlanta up 2-1, there was nothing of the sort coming from the Fire defense. Bobby Shuttleworth should have been screaming “Mine” like Luis Robert making sure Eloy Jimenez doesn’t hurt himself running into a wall.

The lack of communication on defense is a different and worse problem than their brains shutting off for five seconds and is yet again another indictment of the coaching staff, as well as a bad look for the players themselves. We know the club can defend well because they go through stretches of games where they do defend well. I know it’s only two games in, but this is a pattern that extends into last season and even into 2019. it’s past time for this to be figured out. And if it doesn’t get fixed, you’re going to need to start changing the personnel, even if they’re less talented than the players currently on the pitch.