Early on, however, it became clear that Chicago could not play the possession game at which they had become more adept on their recent hot streak. So the Fire turned to the ace up their sleeve: the speed of David Accam.
“Today we wanted to win; we didn’t care how to win,” said Accam, who set up the winner in the 2-0 home win. “We saw that they were playing a high line so they told me, ‘We need to use your pace more,’ so I tried to make the runs behind them every time. That’s how the first goal came.
“...We had to figure it out. This wasn’t our plan from the start. We wanted to keep the ball and play nice football but it wasn’t happening, so we just figure it out on the pitch and change everything.”
Accam got behind the Atlanta defense on a number of occasions with direct runs. While he didn’t have a perfect day in terms of the final balls he played, his speed and movement gave Atlanta fits, and he created the game-winning goal in the 29th minute by setting up Luis Solignac.
Chicago kept just 39 percent of the possession and was out-passed, but the Fire matched United with 12 shots and led the visitors in putting those on target by a 6-2 mark.
“It wasn’t a great game, the game that we are used to playing now, [but] it was a game to win three points,” Chicago head coach Veljko Paunovic said.
After a couple missed chances early, the breakthrough came just before the first half-hour, when Accam got on the end of Bastian Schweinsteiger’s pass over the top. The Ghanaian forward rounded Atlanta goalkeeper Alec Kann, stumbled trying to square himself to shoot and nearly ruined the chance, but ultimately danced around Kann again and found Solignac for the finish in the front of the goal.
“The only thing in my mind was to score the goal,” Accam said, “but I saw he was in a good position so I tried to fake the keeper and also pass it to him and he did justice to the ball.”
It was an easy finish for Solignac, the former striker who Paunovic used as a central attacking midfielder on the day.
“At the beginning it’s not easy because I’m not used to the position. I’m trying to do my best with energy, running and trying to cover the spaces,” Solignac said. “But at the same time I think we all know what to do. If in some point I have to go to another position and they have to take mine we are ready for that. It also creates instability in the other team so it’s good that everybody knows to play in other positions.”
It was the third goal of the season for Solignac, and his first since the May 13 win over the Seattle Sounders.
“It’s good,” Solignac said. “Now [scoring], it’s maybe not my role in that position, but if you can get that plus, that extra, it’s really helpful for the team so I’m very happy.”
The Fire’s group of attacking midfielders working behind lone striker Nemanja Nikolic – who added the second goal on a penalty in the second half – have started to build a chemistry and report. Saturday provided evidence of that.
“We’ve played most of the games together and we know each other's strengths; we work for each other,” Accam said. “I know where to pass the ball to Lucho [Solignac], to [Michael] de Leeuw, to Niko, and I think it’s working really well and we just have to keep going to get used to each other more.”