Early goal, red card lead to lopsided loss for Fire in Atlanta

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USA TODAY

Early goal, red card lead to lopsided loss for Fire in Atlanta

In a match between two upstart teams in the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Fire fell short in the early test.

The Fire gave up an early goal, suffered a red card soon after and were overwhelmed in a 4-0 loss in Atlanta's sold out Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday.

Atlanta midfielder Julian Gressel hit a low cross from the right in the fourth minute that bounced off Brandon Vincent and went into the goal.

The start to the match went from bad to disastrous when Johan Kappelhof was given a red card in the 11th minute. Kappelhof pulled down Josef Martinez and was ruled to be the last defender to deny a scoring opportunity. As a result, he was given the red.

Jonathan Campbell replaced Arturo Alvarez a few minutes later to give the Fire (1-1-1, 4 points) a full four-man back line the rest of the way.

Atlanta (2-1, 6 points) thoroughly dominated possession the rest of the match, but struggled to put shots on target. Despite nearly 83 percent possession in the first half, Atlanta had just one shot on target to the Fire's two.

However, the home team put the match away in the 60th minute. Highly paid designated player Miguel Almiron threaded a pass through multiple defenders to Martinez, who beat the offside trap, dribbled around goalkeeper Jorge Bava and scored into an open net.

Hector Villalba pounced on a loose ball in the box in the 67th minute to make it 3-0 and the rout was on.

Martinez scored his second goal with an impressive pair of touches. He knocked a through ball around Bava with his first touch and scored from a very tight angle to finish off the scoring.

Already down a goal, the Fire were practically out of the game when Kappelhof was sent off and Atlanta finally converted all the possession into goals in the second half. Atlanta finished with 83 percent possession for the match.

Fire forward Michael de Leeuw suffered a hamstring injury in training on Friday and was not with the team for Saturday's match. Luis Solignac took his spot in the starting lineup, which was the only change from last week's 2-0 win against Real Salt Lake.

Next weekend is an international break. The Fire next play at home on April 1 against Montreal.

Familiar problems for Fire in loss at New York City FC

Familiar problems for Fire in loss at New York City FC

A game which paired two of the top teams in the MLS standings didn’t deliver in a traditional sense, but did produce a wild game on Saturday.

The Chicago Fire looked like a team coming off a break in Saturday’s 2-1 loss at New York City FC. The Fire played up a man from the 12th minute on, but defensive lapses throughout and a lack of crispness in front of goal cost the Fire.

After a first half in which the Fire (11-4-5, 38 points) were outshot 7-4 despite the man advantage, NYCFC (11-6-4, 37 points) scored twice in the first five minutes of the second half and held off the Fire’s late surge.

For much of the match, the Fire struggled to complete passes and couldn’t even put shorthanded New York City under pressure. Once the Fire fell behind 2-0, David Accam, who entered the match as a halftime sub, got the Fire within one with a long-range effort that slammed in off the bottom off the crossbar.

The final 30 or so minutes resembled the Fire’s previous struggles this season of playing against teams defending deeply. The Fire couldn’t score against Orlando when the Lions were down two players on June 4. Later in June in the U.S. Open Cup, the Fire couldn’t score against USL opponent FC Cincinnati which defended deep the entire match.

NYCFC took the lead two minutes into the second half on a David Villa volley where Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson was screened on the shot. A few minutes later Frederic Brillant rebounded his own header on a set piece to double the lead.

Accam’s goal finished off a stretch of three goals in eight minutes, but the Fire couldn’t beat former goalkeeper Sean Johnson again despite 25 shots.

The loss snapped the Fire’s 11-match MLS unbeaten run and tightened up the Eastern Conference race. Toronto FC, which tied NYCFC in Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, is up a point on the Fire. NYCFC is now a point behind the Fire with an extra game played.

Before the red card, the Fire caught a big break when a Bastian Schweinsteiger turnover nearly led to a penalty kick. Johan Kappelhof slid to knock the ball away from Herrera in the fourth minute, and appeared to miss the ball, but the ref did not give the penalty to the hosts.

Fire defender Brandon Vincent was announced as a starter before the match, but the club said he suffered a left quad strain in warmups and was replaced by Michael Harrington in the lineup.

Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez rings NASDAQ closing bell

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Chicago Fire

Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez rings NASDAQ closing bell

As part of the hype for the MLS All-Star Game, Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez and a handful of Major League Soccer cohorts made a trip to New York on Friday.

Rodriguez rang NASDAQ's closing bell. The MLS All-Star Game will take place at Soldier Field on Aug. 2.

Check out the photos from the occasion.