The things we know
Respect the speed
Coming back home
A bit of a mystery
- Right (wing)back Michael Harrington received a red card against Orlando and will be unavailable
- Gherig, who can play fullback or center back, has not played yet due to injury. He is listed on the injury report, but is not ruled out.
- Striker Gilberto picked up an injury in Week 1 and did not play in Week 2. He is listed on the injury report, but is not ruled out.
The 3-5-2 seems like something Paunovic would like to make a regular part of Chicago's arsenal. It allows for flexibility and can stretch the width of the field while providing a lot of defensive support thanks to three center backs. Chicago would have to keep Kappelhof as a CB in this case, because they don't otherwise have the depth to play the formation.
When you consider that Columbus should boss possession and push the Fire back, it likely would look a lot more like a bunkered 5-3-2 in practice. Polster is the lone defensive mid in this setup, as Dutch newcomer John Goosens and Arturo Alvarez, also a new face (though an MLS veteran), have a more attacking bent.
The formation does have some holes Crew SC can attack, as long as it has good attacking movement. For one, there is only one wide defender on each side, which means that a combination of Ethan Finlay and Hector Jimenez (if we assume Gregg Berhalter will stick with him) along with the normal attacking contributions of fullbacks Harrison Afful and Waylon Francis can really overload those wide channels. This provides the ability to either overwhelm those wide attacking spaces or to pull the center backs out of shape and create space in the middle.
Kei Kamara's movement and aerial prowess will be key to testing the communication of the back three. Throw in Federico Higuain's penchant to pop up anywhere on the field, and there's the potential to create confusion along that back line, which can create space for a winger cutting inside or a trailing run from a defensive mid (especially if Pipa can drag Polster out of position).
The other option would likely be a 4-2-3-1, like the Fire played in the season opener. That would look something like this:
If Gilberto is healthy, this formation allows Chicago to do two things — get all of its best attackers on the field, and also solidify its defensive balance across the field, providing more help in wide areas while likely putting an extra defensive midfielder in the center of the field, with Razvan Cocis more suited to that role than Goosens or Alvarez.
It could, however, allow Columbus to pin Accam and Igboananike back more with possession, and make it a little easier for Crew SC to get back to defend the counter attack.
The 4-2-3-1 might be the better option for Chicago in this instance, given the way Columbus attacks and the personnel the Fire have on hand. It's more balanced, likely puts more defensive-minded personnel on the field and provides clearer matchup roles. The 3-5-2 is designed to defend the center of the field well, and Crew SC may be able to exploit it with their wide play, though it also could be very difficult to break a 5-3-2 bunker.
No matter what Chicago runs out, it will provide the Black & Gold with a very good opportunity to get their first win of the season. Just the sheer amount of change for the Fire should put it at a disadvantage compared to the stability of Columbus, but Crew SC will need to put together a sharper performance than last week. Mistakes against Chicago will mean opportunities for Accam, and while the Fire struggled with finishing a year ago, they've also shown they can punish opponents at any time.
The defense, though, is another question, and with an almost assured advantage in possession, Columbus has to control the game and avoid getting stagnant off the ball, because this is a defense that, while it may have numbers, is still very much a work in progress.