Chicago Fire hope dominant half is start of resurgent run

BRIDGEVIEW – Recent Chicago Fire matches have been marked by an inability to finish even easy chances, along with costly goalkeeping and defensive mistakes.

You wouldn’t have expected those tables to turn so dramatically against Atlanta United, but it all fell into place for the Fire on Wednesday night at SeatGeek Stadium. Chicago rolled to a 5-1 win over the defending MLS Cup champions behind the highest-scoring half in club history, in the process dealing Atlanta a club record worst for goals conceded in a match.

“That first half is everything we want to be as a team,” Fire captain Dax McCarty said. “We want to score goals, we want to keep a shutout in the back, we want to be on the front foot.”

They accomplished all that and more in the first 45 minutes. Francisco Calvo marked his return from Concacaf Gold Cup duty for Costa Rica with an early header from a Nico Gaitan corner, followed shortly after by a defensive whiff from Atlanta that left C.J. Sapong in on goal to quickly make it 2-0.

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The nail in Atlanta’s coffin came in just the 13th minute, as Video Review ruled that Leandro Gonzalez Pirez had used his arm to deny an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. Atlanta were down to 10 men, and the rout was on. Gaitan coolly dispatched his penalty, Fabian Herbers made it four goals for the hosts and Sapong struck again off a slick, backheel through ball from Gaitan to give the Fire a 5-0 halftime advantage. It matched their best offensive output for the season, and Gaitan tied Patrick Doody for the club's single-game assist record.

“There was a little bit of a chip on our shoulder because we didn’t finish those chances against the Red Bulls,” said Herbers, reflecting on the Fire’s 26 shots in a 3-1 loss last week. “Hopefully the luck turns a bit and we can keep it going.”

In the second half, the Fire reverted to their poor form in front of goal and lost the shutout by conceding a penalty kick converted by Atlanta’s Brandon Vazquez.

“Execution in the first half was perfect; I have nothing else to add,” said Fire coach Veljko Paunovic, who preferred to talk about where his squad still came up short despite his team securing three points for the first time since May 11. “In the second half we didn’t achieve our goals,” he said. “We know we have to get better, there are many things to improve.”

The Fire will have no shortage of opportunity to continue improving, with five more matches to come in July alone. Sitting just five points out of a playoff spot, they certainly aren’t counting themselves out yet.

“We’re not going to let up,” McCarty said. “I think the ceiling for this team is extremely high and that we can really make a run.”

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