Columbus Crew SC is experiencing something they haven’t since 2014, they have won three games in a row. The Black & Gold have picked up key wins against D.C. United, the Portland Timbers, and Orlando City. Justin Meram and Ola Kamara were key contributors on the offense, the defense received stellar performances from Zack Steffen, Nicolai Naess, and Homegrown player Alex Crognale. During the streak Columbus has only conceded two goals, both of which came at the hands of Portland.
Artur has also provided key contributions as he has visibly improved in each game since his debut. He, along with Wil Trapp, have been key distributors in the midfield. This season Artur has completed 88 percent of his passes, while Trapp is up at 92 percent. The team is seeing some fantastic distribution in the midfield.
Since its last meeting with Columbus, the Chicago Fire has looked pedestrian. Picking up one win against Real Salt Lake, losing to Atlanta United, and sharing points with the Montreal Impact. However, the Fire did make an impact signing when the club announced the addition of former Bayern Munich and Manchester United player Bastian Schweinsteiger. There is no doubt the newest Designated Player shined in his debut, but what can Crew SC expect to see when they make the trip to Bridgeview this weekend?
The aforementioned Schweinsteiger will garner much of Crew SC’s attention. Debuting last week against Montreal, Schweinsteiger looked very impressive as he was paired up with Juninho and Dax McCarty in the center of the park. Many of his passes were well thought out and had the perfect touch to find attacking players like David Accam and Arturo Alvarez. It was vintage Schweinsteiger as he worked his magic creating various scoring chances seemingly out of thin air.
There was a noticeable shift in approach from the Fire as Schweinsteiger’s presence seemed to add a level of comfort for Juninho and McCarty. He helped apply pressure in the attacking zone and directed the play.
Much like in the season opener, Accam poses a serious threat to the Columbus defense as he has been incredibly dynamic for the Fire. He is a quick forward, capable of wrecking havoc from the wide positions. Accam possesses a tremendous dribbling ability and can serve deadly crosses. He was responsible for the assist on Bastian Schweinsteiger’s debut goal and scored in five of his last six appearances against Columbus. Once again look for him to attack his fellow countrymen Harrison Afful and Jonathan Mensah on Saturday. Expect them to be a bit more prepared this time as the Crew SC defense has taken steps in a positive direction since their last encounter.
The injury bug has already bit the Fire hard this season and they will need to make some adjustments come Saturday. They are without John Goosens who is expected to miss six months of action after being injured in the season opener in Columbus. They are also without the services of Matt Polster for a while longer. It remains unknown if Crew SC should game plan for Michael De Leeuw who exited the last match early. It has been reported that he received six stitches in his hand and is training with a protective glove on.
The Fire have varied their attack since the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger. One of the main points of emphasis for Chicago is set pieces. Head Coach Veljko Paunovic has made sure to include some variety and creativity from the Chicago set pieces. This was showcased in their first goal Saturday against the Impact.
Time will only favor the Fire as Schweinsteiger continues the process of settling into the Chicago lineup. Having worked with European greats like Wayne Rooney and Arjen Robben, the Fire will look to tap into Schweinsteiger’s creativity. Don’t be surprised to see more creative set piece looks in week two of the Schweinsteiger era.
This is one area that needs addressing for the Fire. The Chicago defense conceded four goals to Atlanta United and were fortunate to draw with Montreal when all indications were pointing to an Impact win.
The Fire often invite pressure, but in some cases do so too much, letting attacking players dribble freely just outside of the 18-yard box. Seldomly does a Fire defender meet the attacking player and attempts to steer him away from dangerous areas inside the penalty box.
Chicago goalkeeper Jorge Bava has to do a better job of commanding his box. There still seems to be a disconnect between him and his backline that could be exploited by the opposition.
The defense can get pulled apart rather easily and space can become quickly exploited. Fire defender Brandon Vincent struggled to keep Harrison Afful and Ethan Finlay in check during the opener.
To insure success in this upcoming match, expect to see Afful moving into a wider position like he played in the first meeting and Finlay run at the defense as he looks to cause chaos for Vincent and Juao Meira. Afful and Finlay could also combine on a few overlapping runs, as Afful looks to cross the ball to a Crew SC attacking player.
How Crew SC Win
This game is tough to predict as both teams have improved since the opener at MAPFRE Stadium. Chicago boasts a strong attack and midfield but once again will be without Juninho. The Fire backline has been shaky at best and can easily be exploited.
Expect Chicago to make adjustments and give special attention to Harrison Afful, but they will be overwhelmed on the right side as Ethan Finlay will have a strong game. Justin Meram should thrive against Michael Harrington as he has had rocky appearances this season for Chicago.
This game will be a great test for Artur and Wil Trapp who will square up against another great midfield duo in Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty.
Mark my words, this game will be won in the midfield.
McCarty is a gamer and is fantastic defensively and Schweinsteiger has already demonstrated that he has what it takes to succeed in this league. Albeit, his sample size of league matches is still rather small.
Expect Artur and Trapp to answer the bell and have another fantastic game.
What do you see being the keys to the game? Discuss with us in the comments or tweet @schudel_ralph to tell me what you think. Don’t forget we have all the information you need for the match against the Chicago Fire.