Atlanta United: 5 questions with Chicago beat reporter

Atlanta United will host Chicago on Saturday at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium. Kickoff is 4 p.m. The game will be the first MLS regular-season contest to be broadcast live on facebook.

The game is also sold out.

Dan Santaromita is in his second season covering the Fire for CSN Chicago. You can follow him @thedansanto on Twitter and read his work on

He answered a few questions about Chicago:

1. Which player has been the most important acquisition to the team?

A: Dax McCarty has been everything the Fire needed so far. He’s not a goal scorer or a traditional playmaker, but he sets his teammates up to be in better positions to create chances. In each of the first two matches he has made the pass that set up the assisting pass for the Fire’s opening goal. Nemanja Nikolic and Juninho were also key additions this offseason, but through two games McCarty has stood out more. Nikolic scored last week against Real Salt Lake and gives the Fire a good option up top and Juninho is another proven midfielder, but McCarty has been more of a difference maker so far.

2. How has Dax McCarty changed the Fire’s midfield?

A: Everything has run through him in the Fire’s first two matches. When the Fire are building possession out of the back, he often drops between the two center backs to get things going. When he has a chance to receive the ball in midfield he has made a number of key passes to give the wide players or forwards a chance to be dangerous. The Fire didn’t have that last year. The Fire were last in the league in terms of share of possession, and while McCarty has said the team still has a lot of work to do in that area, his addition has improved things greatly in midfield.

3. How has Duluth’s Daniel Johnson looked?

A: Johnson hasn’t played in the regular season yet, but did show flashes of his talent during the preseason. He’s quick and showed an ability to beat defenders, cut inside from the left wing and find teammates once he got near the box. Two rookies, third round pick Brandt Bronico and 18-year-old academy product Djordje Mihailovic, made their debuts on Saturday. Meanwhile, Johnson wasn’t included on the list of available substitutes in either match. John Goossens, another wide midfielder, got injured in the season opener and is expected to be out five to six months so if Johnson doesn’t go out on loan to the USL, it would appear there could be minutes for him off the bench soon.

4. What is the opinion of the Chicago Fire’s coaching staff about Atlanta United?

A: Multiple players and coach Veljko Paunovic mentioned the six goals Atlanta scored in Minnesota as a sign that Atlanta is a team to watch out for. Paunovic always says nice things about the opposition, but he described Atlanta as an “attacking-oriented team.” He talked about the speed and technical ability Atlanta has in its attack. Obviously the rest of the league is taking notice of what Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez et al. have done so far.

5. What is the most important matchup in Saturday’s game?

A: In my opinion, it’s the Fire’s backline against Atlanta’s attack. The Fire absorbed a lot of pressure in the first half in Columbus to start the season and sat back after scoring two early goals against Real Salt Lake. RSL managed just one shot on target, but Columbus could have scored three or four goals. Atlanta’s attacking group is fast, talented and was efficient in Minnesota. If the Fire, which tend to sit back and look to counter, can’t possess enough to give the defense a break, Atlanta is bound to punish them more than a shorthanded RSL did.

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