Columbus Crew SC and the Chicago Fire kicked off their MLS seasons today at MAPFRE stadium in central Ohio. Despite the unfavorable weather, Crew SC fans had a unique opportunity to start the season with an intense rivalry match at home. Both teams floundered last year and looked to start off this one strong, but in the end neither were the victor as the match ended level at 1-1.
Columbus began the match in command and looked like a rejuvenated side as they made an early statement with an Ethan Finlay goal in the 17th minute. A beautiful curling cross by Justin Meram on the left flank left only a little work for Finlay, who headed the ball passed Chicago goalkeeper Jorge Bava and into the corner of the net.
The first half closed out with the Black & Gold leading by a goal. While producing seven shots and being the team in charge, they were unable to gain a further advantage on the scoreline.
Lack of clinicism in front of net was a persistent issue last season and Gregg Berhalter opted to make a striker change in the 70th minute by bringing on the physical Adam Jahn for Ola Kamara. The latter has suffered injury concerns throughout preseason and was doubtful ahead of today’s match. The substitution was likely precautionary but Crew SC’s attack seemed to suffer as a result
On the Chicago side, Veljko Paunovic made a halftime tactical change, as is characteristic of the Serbian coach, by taking a much wider and indirect attacking approach while switching from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 setup.
The men in gray’s attack produced far more chances and in the 73rd minute those paid dividends as John Goossens set up David Accam inside the penalty box. The Ghanaian winger then made a sleek move to set Jonathan Mensah, Crew SC defender and fellow Ghanaian, off balance and curled a shot into the far corner just beyond the tips of Zack Steffen’s gloves.
Both sides would continue to see chances but it was the Fire whom commanded the second half as they outshot the Black & Gold 10 to three. However, neither side was able to notch another tally as the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
While it is not the start they wanted at home against the Fire, the number of chances either team created meant the game could have gone either way. Overall the defense looked strong, a concern coming into the year, but a lack of ability to adapt to Chicago’s changes and inability to convert in front of net led to a disappointing draw at home.
Last season Crew SC recorded eight draws at home, a heavily disadvantageous mark due to the travel-intense nature of MLS, and will be working to not repeat the same in 2017 despite this result.
Columbus will look to improve on that mark next Saturday, March 11, as they take on the Houston Dynamo at 8:30 ET in Houston Texas.