The Columbus Crew were on the short end of a 1-0 final score in their game against the Chicago Fire in the Carolina Challenge Cup. The first half started quite strong from a Crew side looking for a win after a 2-2 tie in the opening game to tourney hosts Charleston battery. Details after the jump.The Crew started the game in a 4-5-1 formation with Renteria being the lone forward, Mirocevic, Tchani and trialist Stephane Auvray in the middle. The wings were occupied by, the now familiar duo of Gaven on the right and Finley on the left. The defensive four consisted of the regular right side of Chad Marshall and Sebastian Miranda and a new left side consisting of Danny O'Rourk as the central defender and trialist Nemanja Vukovic. Goal tending duties were assigned to Andy Gruenebaum for the second game in a row.
The team started out pressuring the Fire in hopes of finding the net early as they did the previous game. The left and right backs made quite a few overlapping runs, but most crosses fizzled and found Fire defenders feet. The crosses from Gaven and Finley created some chances in the box that were saved by the Fire's net minder Paolo Tornaghi.
The Crew players are still looking for their air game though. All headers from corners, set pieces and crosses were directed high and wide of the net. The first dangerous chance came in the 25th minute on a shot from Gaven that was deflected by the Fire's keeper only to find Ethan Finley's feet, but he shot it wide right. Columbus kept up the pressure through out the first half with the Fire only getting one real chance that Gruenebaum managed to save.
The Second half started with wholesale changes in players and formation for the Crew in order to preserve the team's regulars and give some new faces a chance to show their skills. Enter Josh Williams, Eric Gehrig, Shaun Francis, Olman Vargas, Tommy Heinemann and a 4-4-2 setup. For the first 20 minutes, the Crew kept up the pressure from the first half with a very solid effort from Finley, who with Gruenebaum were the only Crew players to go the full 90 minutes. The change in personnel eventually showed it's effect at Chicago started pushing back, pressuring the Crew's defense and creating dangerous chances.
In the 80th minute, bringing reminders of last season's late game collapses, Fire forward Federico Puppo found the ball at his feet inside the 6 yard box off of a deflection by the Crew defense. His one time strike chipped over Gruenebaum's diving attempt and into the net. Chicago almost added a second goal a few minutes later, but substitute Korey Veeder was able to make the stop.
The Crew plays D.C. United for its final game of the Carolina Challenge Cup on Saturday March 3rd at 5pm. The game will be streamed live on www.TheCrew.com.