Two weeks into the season and the story for Columbus Crew SC is a simple one: The team hasn't played bad but the results aren't there. At 0-2, it's too early to say things aren't working but there's room for concern.
After losing the first home opener in 11 years last week, 2-1 to the Philadelphia Union, the Black & Gold travel to Bridgeview, Ill to take on a Chicago Fire team that hasn't had the best start either. The difference is in the expectations.
The Fire have a new head coach, Velijko Paunović, and are looking to end a playoff drought that goes back to 2013. Chicago began the season with a 4-3 home loss to New York City FC on opening day before getting a road draw a week ago at Orlando City SC.
Last season, it took until July for Crew SC to get its first road win of the year, but it happened in Chicago. Could Columbus right the ship this weekend and reduce the panic in town? Let's see what our Massive Report staff thinks about this contest.
Gregg Berhalter has come out and said he isn't interested in wins and losses at this point in the season. If that's the attitude at training, I think it will be hard for a team that struggles on the road to pull out a result against an improved Chicago team. I expect the Crew SC to concede again on a set piece as has become the norm under Berhalter's tenure.
Chicago Fire 2 Columbus Crew SC 1
I think you see an improved performance from Crew SC in this one. It's not that they've played bad so far to start the season, but it hasn't been consistently dominating like we saw at the end of 2015. Despite the win in Chicago last year, the Black & Gold tend to struggle getting victories at Toyota Park. I think it looks better and eases concerns, but ends in a draw. One point is better than none.
Chicago Fire 1 Columbus Crew SC 1
It's time for Crew SC to shake off some of the rust, and to do it against a rival. There's a lot we don't know about Chicago -- How aggressive will new coach Valjko Paunovic be for three points at home? What formation will they run out? Will Gilberto play? But we also know the Fire are a work in progress. (Shameless plug: I wrote about the matchup, go read it). I think Columbus can exploit some things and will certainly dominate possession, but Chicago will have a lot of guys behind the ball. I think Kei Kamara adds to his 2015 tally and gets one, and I think Ethan Finlay breaks out of his rut a bit and puts one in the net. I also think it's likely, due to a penchant for the more-than-occasional midfield turnover, that Chicago will be able to hit David Accam on the break, and he will get one to prevent the shutout. Another 2-1 scoreline, but this time one that Columbus fans can swallow.
Columbus Crew SC 2 Chicago Fire 1
Columbus would really like to get back to winning ways. The Fire defense is struggling to cut down on chances. Veljko Paunović has tweaked his side, but NYCFC found them too open and Orlando City couldn't convert on the opportunities they had a man up. Crew SC will finish a few. Chicago's offense presents a problem that Columbus struggles with. The can counter at speed. Portland and Philadelphia were able to find space in the mid third, leaving the back line reacting.
Chicago Fire 2 Columbus Crew SC 2
Crew SC come out, hopefully strong, and score in the first 30 minutes. However, they still can not close out a game and let in a tying goal in the last five minutes. Meram or Cedric scoring for the Crew.
Columbus Crew SC 1 Chicago Fire 1
Tough call, but I think the Black and Gold will pull out a tight victory. In all likelihood it'll be a nervy sort of match, with a late impact sub (Cedric, maybe even Larsen?) making the difference. I'm mostly concerned with the mentality of the team. If they come out and look to take this match by the throat, that's a very good sign. But if they look timid, doubtful, it could be a bad day. The longer the match stays 0-0 the more I worry for Crew SC, and if we give up the first goal, especially early, it could be incredibly difficult to get back in to it.
I think if the Crew are going to be successful in Bridgeview there will have to be more of a balance of play between the wing play that is our bread and butter and the center of the park. I think Pipa and Tchani both need to play very well, get in to good attacking positions, and create chances for the forwards if this team is going to win. At the moment the Black and Gold are too predictable. It's all wing play. That'll need to change if the Crew want to break their poor run at the expense of Bridgeview.
Columbus Crew SC 2 Chicago Fire 1
While it's early yet in the 2016 MLS season, Columbus Crew SC would love to shake off its recurring result of being on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline dating back to last year's Cup. The good news for the Black & Gold is that they face the Chicago Fire Saturday night: they've conceded five goals in two contests so far this year, a metric bad enough to be second-worst in the Eastern Conference. But for a club struggling to find the final punch on offensive sequences, it may come down to defense if Columbus is to right the ship and secure its first standings point(s) of the year. Unacceptable breakdowns on set pieces have led to scores by Portland and Philadelphia, and the attacking midfield has lacked the finesse with which it operated last year. This is a mystifying phenomenon, as the unit stars the same role players. No longer with dynamic midfielder Harry Shippânow with MontrealâChicago will be focused on getting the ball to David Accam. Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani must work to mire the Fire's legs in the defensive third and limit turnovers by sloppy dispossessions in their effort sinking deep to help out captain Michael Parkhurst and Gaston Sauro. Accam's fellow Ghanaian and Crew SC right back Harrison Afful will be relied upon again to ignite things offensively along the flank, and Gregg Berhalter needs wing play to be a strength once again. I don't believe in the defense just yet, so I see Chicago scoring perhaps twice, while Kamara getting a brace doesn't seem beyond the pale. Cedrick Mabwati's speed will almost certainly be subbed in early, as he was against the Union, if things don't go well from a pace standpoint.
Columbus Crew SC 2 Chicago Fire 2