Gonzalo Pineda knows Atlanta United must build momentum to turn its season around – and he hopes that can start Saturday against the Chicago Fire.
Expectations are always high at Atlanta, as Pineda acknowledges. The franchise won the MLS Cup in just its second season and has since been working to recreate that high.
Right now, Atlanta is 12th in the Eastern Conference, four points outside the playoff places and in need of a spark.
“Pressure is in everything we do,” Pineda says. “When you’re at a club like Atlanta United, you want to win every game.”
Pineda’s men have only six wins in 21 heading into the game against Chicago and, crucially, have not celebrated back-to-back victories all season long.
“It’s about two, three results that we can turn into momentum for us,” Pineda added. “So this game is obviously very important in order to do that.”
Chicago is only two points better off but does have that momentum after three straight wins.
An early goal for the home side will be key to demoralizing Atlanta, which has acknowledged a flaw.
“We are conceding goals in the first 10, 15 minutes of the games,” Pineda said. “And that’s becoming an issue that we are trying to address and we are trying to fix. So, hopefully, this game we can go in at halftime with a clean sheet.
“I would say 95 to 98 percent of the training sessions have high quality, are high intensity, and then most of the games I felt that we played very good, but we haven’t collected points. So, now is the moment to continue. Just keep going, head down, just work, work harder. Work a little better, work a little bit smarter, come together.
“The togetherness is very important now, and then we start to just produce points and make plays, and that’s very important to me.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Chicago Fire – Rafael Czichos
Center back Czichos clearly has a huge role to play at both ends of the pitch. He has three goals in his past four games, including two in the most recent two, but he has also been part of a hugely impressive defense. Chicago has conceded only once over its three-match winning run.
Atlanta United – Josef Martinez
With Atlanta in need of a spark, Martinez must be close to coming back into the XI. His past three appearances have all come from the bench, but the superstar forward has increasingly played more and more minutes ahead of a full recall.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Nine of the 10 all-time MLS meetings between Chicago and Atlanta have been won by the home team, including a 4-1 victory for the Five Stripes in Atlanta on May 7. The lone road result in this series was a 2-1 Atlanta win at the Fire in May 2018.
– The Fire have won three straight matches for the first time since a four-match run in June-July 2017. Chicago’s nine points in its past three games come after collecting a total of eight points in its previous 14 MLS matches (W2 D2 L10).
– Atlanta’s winless road run extended to eight games (D2 L6) with a 2-0 loss at the LA Galaxy on Sunday. Only Toronto and Colorado (three points each) have fewer points on the road than the Five Stripes (five – W1 D2 L7) this season.
– The Fire have kept clean sheets in 10 of their past 14 home MLS matches dating back to last September, including doing so in each of the last two matches. Including playoffs, no team in MLS history has kept more than 10 clean sheets in a span of 14 home games.
– Ronaldo Cisneros scored a hat trick in the first meeting between Chicago and Atlanta this season, a 4-1 win for the Five Stripes on May 7. Cisneros completed the hat trick 36 minutes into the match, the fastest from kickoff in team history and tied for the fastest from kickoff in MLS this season (Jesus Ferreira, Dallas).