Chicago Fire

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

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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.

Notes from the rewatch: The Fire's second half defensive issues

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Notes from the rewatch: The Fire's second half defensive issues

The Fire headed to Philadelphia on Saturday with a good chance to get some points on the road against a team out of the playoff race.

However, things rarely come easy on the road in MLS and the Fire got another lesson in that. Despite having the run of play and creating more quality chances in the first half, the Fire stared at a halftime deficit after conceding soon after a set piece.

The surprising part was the second half, where the Fire's defense gave up a number of chances and two early goals to put the game away. Here's a look at what happened to the Fire's defense and how the shorthanded midfield is coping.

Philadelphia's fullbacks play key role

The recent injuries to Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster showed how key the play of the outside backs are in the Fire's system. The Fire's inability to create through the middle of the field and the quality Vincent and Polster (and Patrick Doody when he played for Vincent and provided four assists in seven starts) have shown in the attack has made those two very important to the Fire.

Philadelphia used fullbacks to great effect as well on Saturday, and the Union's pair of Fabinho and Keegan Rosenberry ultimately outshined Vincent and Polster. Both Union fullbacks had assists, created multiple other chances and overloaded the Fire's defense by adding numbers to the attack.

Rosenberry's assist came after a corner kick was only partially cleared, but he did make a nice move to give himself space for the cross and put in a good ball. Fabinho went for the long ball a lot and had some bad turnovers, but he got forward enough to be a nightmare for the Fire's defense. Check out this look at the third goal:

Fabinho actually played a role in two goals. His low cross in the ninth minute, which was the only decent chance Philly created from the run of play in the first half, was cleared for a corner. That corner led to the first goal.

Philadelphia lost the midfield battle to the Fire, but got numbers forward when they had the opportunity to overwhelm the Fire's defense and did so with much better effect after halftime.

Philly's second-half surge

In the first half it appeared the only way Philadelphia was going to score was through a set piece. The Union created a decent number of them, but didn't create anything from the run of play.

Things changed in the second half with the two goals and a pair of missed headers that came from crosses all coming from open play in the second half. The Fire were being more aggressive while trailing and conceded chances on the counter, but also had some key turnovers. Without Bastian Schweinsteiger and Juninho, the Fire's defense seemed to get exposed more often.

Philadelphia ended up outshooting the Fire 15-11 and had a 6-5 edge in shots on target. The Union also had more corners (6-3) and crosses (23-14). It ended up being a resounding win for the Union.

Fire display "patience" for only goal

In the first half Fire coach Veljko Paunovic was seen and heard yelling "Patience, patience!" to his players, even while the team was trailing 1-0. When things were going good for the Fire, it was often with methodical, deliberate buildups that were from strings of 10 or more passes in a row.

There probably wasn't as much of that as Paunovic or the Fire would like, thus him yelling it to his team, but the team's only goal of the game came after a 21-pass buildup. Polster crossed to Nemanja Nikolic, who made an impressive flick in the general direction of Luis Solignac. Solignac, who had subbed into the game fewer than 10 minutes before, got inside position on Rosenberry and buried it.

At this point, the Fire will not suddenly become a team which can build through the middle of the field. The Fire rely on good service from the fullbacks and on this occasion Polster provided a good ball and Nikolic and Solignac made plays to turn it into a goal.

With tougher games awaiting, Fire miss opportunity to gain ground in standings

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With tougher games awaiting, Fire miss opportunity to gain ground in standings

Saturday got off to a good start for the Fire with New York City FC drawing at home, but the Fire were unable to gain ground in the race for second place in the Eastern Conference.

Not only did the Fire fail to gain ground, they lost ground. Philadelphia smashed the Fire 3-1 on Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium, leaving the Fire four points behind NYCFC for second and vulnerable to the chasing pack. Atlanta can pass the Fire for third place with a win against Montreal on Sunday, and still would have a game in hand.

Things don’t get any easier for the Fire with a trip at San Jose coming up on Wednesday. The Earthquakes are in the thick of the playoff race in the Western Conference and have one home loss this season.

While Philadelphia has won a majority of its home matches this season, it was the easiest of the three remaining road games on the Fire’s schedule. In addition to the trip to San Jose, the Fire close the regular season at Houston, another team in the playoff hunt that has just one home loss this year.

So Saturday wasn’t such a good day for the Fire.

The game marked the first start for defender Joao Meira since Aug. 16, but midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Juninho missed once again. This was the third straight game Schweinsteiger missed and two straight for Juninho.

Philadelphia took the lead on a Chris Pontius header in the 10th minute and added goals in the second half by Pontius and C.J. Sapong to secure a three-goal lead. Luis Solignac, who came off the bench to replace David Accam in the 60th minute, provided the Fire with a consolation goal, but there wasn’t another to make things interesting in the final minutes.

With four games left in the regular season, the Fire have a pair of tricky games coming up with that trip to San Jose before a big one at home against NYCFC.