It’s the beginning of the 2017 season and for the first time in six years, Columbus Crew SC opens at home. MAPFRE Stadium will be a very chilly place with game time temperatures in the mid 30s as the Chicago Fire and Crew SC hope to improve over a dismal 2017.
Several players are primed to make their debut for Columbus. Zack Steffen has already been named the starting goalkeeper and will make his first official Crew SC appearance of his career. Designated Player Jonathan Mensah, left back Jukka Raitala, and midfielder Mohammed Abu are also primed for their first appearance in the gold shirt.
The Fire also have considerable turnover with Dax McCarty, Nemanja Nikolić, and Jorge Bava set to make their debuts, but they will be missing new midfield dynamo Juninho with a late red card appeal from his time in Mexico. Matt Polster won’t be able to play either, further sapping the Fire’s midfield depth.
Keys to the Match
Ola’s role: Ola Kamara suffered a concussion in preseason and wasn’t a participant in the Carolina swing and missed all three games. Adam Jahn started in his place. Kamara’s healthy, but is also likely getting back to game fittness. Will he get the start or be an option off the bench?
Battling the cold: After the heat of Brazil and relative warmth of Charleston, Crew SC return to the bitter cold. Plenty of the players have cold weather experience, so that may not be a problem, but it also affects the field and the ball. Will Columbus be able to play the quick rhythmic passing and possession based attack in the cold.
Getting to know you: Of Crew SC’s roster turnover, three of the likely new starters are in defense with another in defensive midfield. The 2016 Columbus defense struggled mightily and this season will depend heavily on how quickly Steffen, Mensah, Raitala, and Abu mesh with the rest of the team to form a stiff backline.
How to Watch
Date/Time: Saturday March 2nd, 2:00 p,m. ET
Venue: MAPFRE Stadium (Columbus, OH)
Watch: ABC-6, Spectrum Sports, BCSN2 (Channel Guide)
Stream: MLS Live
Listen: CD102.5 FM (English) La Mega 103.1 FM (Spanish)