That first contest ended in a 1-1 draw after Crew SC dominated the first half and took an early lead, but couldn’t find a second goal. The Fire changed tactics in the second 45 minutes, frustrating the Black & Gold’s possession style and finding an equalizer through David Accam.
Since that opening tie, Columbus has gone 3-0-1 including its current three-game winning streak. Head coach Gregg Berhalter has demonstrated a willingness to part from his normal system, playing a new formation and winning games without winning the possession battle.
Chicago has also changed in just over a month. The Fire added German World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger, who made his debut last week. In doing so, the team switched to a three-man midfield, but may revert back with Juninho once against suspended.
The Men in Red are 1-1-2 on the year with the lone victory coming over Western Conference bottom feeders Real Salt Lake.
But this game is at Toyota Park and we know strange things can happen in Bridgeview.
Questions for Hot Time in Old Town
Massive Report: Not much has changed since the last time these two teams met, right? Just kidding. How has Bastian Schweinsteiger changed things both on the field and in terms of expectations with this team in 2017?
Hot Time in Old Town: We're caught at the moment in a weird sort of statis, hoping that Bastian is the answer to connecting our potentially lights-out midfield with the frontrunners in attack but not yet certain of anything. What's certain is that the Fire's days of being any kind of soft touch — competitively, tactically, emotionally — should be a thing of the past. This is a roster of guys near their peak, built to win in the very near future if not immediately. The combined tactical and positional nous of the Basti/Dax/Juninho midfield is off the charts.
So we need to see it start to happen, and soon. That's a massive shift in expectations over this time last year, but only a middling one since the start of this season - the Fire have gone from 'should be better' to 'should be good.'
MR: Based on watching the Fire and looking at the stats, it's obvious the scoring is being spread out, but is that the plan? Would Velkjo Paunovic prefer one guy came to the forefront as THE scorer?
HTiOT: Nemanja Nikolic was bought from Legia Warsaw to be that guy, and it hasn't clicked so far. Again, it's early. He's had a few chances and fluffed more of them than you'd like to see - but we've seen enough to know that Niko is a pure poacher, and those guys (think Chicharito) tend to run very hot-and-cold. He's also not a guy who creates his own shot much, so he's dependent on service - and the Fire's biggest problem going forward has been finding a guy who can connect the rest of the team to the attack.
Without Nikolic drawing attention from both centerbacks, Michael de Leeuw's supporting runs are covered and wing defenders have plenty of cover they need to deny David Accam room. If he can start looking more threatening, the whole offense will suddenly seem a lot more lethal.
MR: What is the thought on goalkeeper Jorge Bava? One shutout this year, but he's also allowed seven goals including a howler last week against the Montreal Impact. Does former Crew SC keeper Matt Lampson have a chance or is this Bava's job?
HTiOT: I always try to keep an optimistic frame of mind about players the Fire bring in. I was hopeful that Federico Puppo must have another gear, and that Gaston Puerari was more than a butcher; I tried to imagine Adailton as an effective member of a solid defense. So it has been with Bava - despite a constant drumbeat of negative whispers from training (he's got zero quickness, his hands are suspect) - I've tried to imagine the glass half full.
The glass is not half full. Bava is not the answer. He's aggressive off his line, yes, but his distribution - allegedly a strength - has been USL-level garbage, and shot-stopping skills are so far beneath the standard to which Fire fans have become accustomed as to be shocking.
Simply put, Sean Johnson saves that second Montreal goal last week, and the Men in Red are on 7 points from 4 games. Freezing him out all season last year in an effort to 'change the culture' is the kind of move that only gets praise long after it is proved successful. So far, it's a long shot that looks like not working out.
From what we've seen, it's not like Lampson is much of an upgrade. At this point, a non-delusional Chicago front office has to accept that they've got zero (0) MLS-starter level keepers on the roster. Is that this front office? We shall see.
To read Massive Report’s answers to Hot Time in Old Town, check out their Signal Intel.