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Crossing the Touchline: Talking Columbus Crew SC at Chicago Fire with Sean Spence of Hot Time in Old Town

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Crew SC will see the Fire twice in one week, so we felt we needed to get acquainted with the Men in Red.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Oh Major League Soccer scheduling, how we've grown to love you.

It's the middle of July, the meat of the schedule, and here we have a double game week for Columbus Crew SC, both games against Eastern Conference Rival the Chicago Fire.

The Black & Gold don't enter this match in the best of form. After a four-match unbeaten run, Crew SC were handed possibly the team's worst defeat of the season on Saturday night when the Montreal Impact sent them back to Columbus with a 3-0 loss.

The defeat continued trends of conceding early - the Black & Gold were down 2-0 in the opening eight minutes - and an inability to win on the road.

What could be the cure? A quick turnaround and another road game you say? Yes!

The Fire meanwhile enter this game on the back of the club's best win of the season (if you don't count a preseason victory over Queens Park Rangers, of course) after Jason Johnson scored in stoppage time to defeat the Seattle Sounders 1-0.

If the name Jason Johnson sounds familiar, it is because he the same Jason Johnson who headed home a stoppage time equalizer against Crew SC at MAPFRE Stadium in the 2-2 draw earlier this year. He is the reason Columbus sits in a log jam tie for third place in the East instead of two points clear of Toronto FC, Orlando City SC, or the New England Revolution (that or really poor late-game defending by the Black & Gold's defense).

He is also the reason the Fire are only six points out of a playoff spot instead of seven. Check that, six points instead of eight after the winner against the Sounders.

Since Columbus fans generally dislike Chicago, and therefore have little reason to watch the Men in Red, we talked with Sean Spence, Editor-In-Chief of Hot Time in Old Town, who knows a thing or two about the Fire.

Questions for Hot Time in Old Town

Massive Report: Mike Magee appears to be getting healthy after his first start in a long time last weekend. What does the former MLS MVP mean for this team and what impact will his full-time return have on the Fire?

Hot Time in Old Town: It's hard to overestimate the potential impact of a fully-operational Death Star Mike Magee on the Chicago Fire; the striker's sublime runs, emotional hectoring and keen sense of the moment have a multiplying effect. A team that spent the first half of the season creating chances by the boatload, only to see most of those chances tossed overboard into Lake Michigan rather than finished, surely could benefit from a player whose MVP season was an extended riff on the outsized power football grants to players who can shape the ball into the back of the net.

The other thing is - to preview your next question - the Fire are truly a better team than their record indicates. Again and again, they've lacked the cutting edge to make the most of sweeping moves; the hope is that Magee provides that cutting edge. At this point, we still haven't seen how Magee best fits within this group; is he going to play behind [Kennedy Igboananike,] or instead of him? The Fire's general tactical uncertainty means nothing can be assumed.

MR: The standings and the results don't paint a flattering picture of Chicago - bottom of the league standings and one win in the last six games - but when I watch the team play, I see a lot of potential. What's holding this team down so far this season and do they have a 2014 Columbus Crew-esque run in them for the second half of the season?

HTiOT: The Fire are absolutely a top 5 team in MLS in the spaces more than 20 yards from goal. They've proven an ability to keep the ball and create chances through the middle, and to circulate the ball to create chances through pace; to press, and to scrap, and to find turnovers that turn into breakouts. What they haven't done is finish many good chances, or stomp out many half-chances the other way. Which is to say that a 10 percent improvement overall could look, to outsiders, like a revolution - just finish some chances, win a few crucial second balls, and this is a very competitive team.

Whether 'very competitive' is sufficient to overcome 'epically underwhelming' is yet to be determined. What's certain is that, for 2015, the clock is ticking. I, for one, would absolutely love to spend the next four months writing about a Fire team that rises from its doldrums and sweeps aside all challengers.

MR: I didn't ask you about Eric Gehrig before the first meeting because he was still relatively new to the team. Now that Fire fans have had some time to get to know him, what do they think of the former Crew SC player and Chicago native? What has he brought to the team, aside from the game-tying assist against the Black & Gold in the first meeting?

HTiOT: I'm not sure what the zeitgeist is about Eric Gehrig. I absolutely love the guy, and I hope he grows into a Fire legend. On the flank, he's just athletic enough to avoid being constantly embarrassed, but not sufficiently athletic to keep embarrassment at any kind of arm's length; it's always there, looming. As a center back, he's clever and insightful. He's brought a huge amount of flexibility to a defense that needed it. I have nothing but respect for Eric Gehrig.

As to what he's brought, I've never seen him hang his head, despite only winning five of 18 games with Chicago. I've never seen him visibly blame a teammate. What Eric Gehrig brings is solidity. My guess is that your guys miss him.

To read Massive Report's responses to Hot Time in Old Town, click here to head over to their site.