After a disappointing loss at the San Jose Earthquakes, and in the middle of a playoff battle, Columbus Crew SC return to MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday to take on second place in the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Fire.
With a quick glance at each team’s record, it might appear that Crew SC should be the underdog in this clash. In reality, the Fire have only 10 road points, two wins and four draws, from 11 road matches in 2017.
Chicago are winless in its last three road matches and started the season with a five-match winless streak on the road, which is especially surprising considering the team’s home record—a nearly perfect 10-0-1. The Fire, one of four Major League Soccer teams who are unbeaten at home, have ridden this impressive home form to the top of the East standings.
As is clear with Chicago’s home record, a team that takes care of home wins is able to succeed despite struggling on the road. The Fire’s 31 points at home are an MLS best, and the club’s 10 road points are actually right in the middle of the league.
“They’ve been exceptional at home this year so it’s hard to mirror that type of record,” Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter said this week.
“Not only have [the Fire] won games at home, but they’ve been blowing teams out. In MLS it’s hard to replicate that type of form on the road.”
Struggling to win matches in MLS on the road is not just a problem for Chicago. Currently, Toronto FC (with four wins, three losses and five draws on the road) is the only team in MLS with a winning record on the road. The LA Galaxy, who is surprisingly good on the road but poor at home, have an identical five wins and five losses away from the StubHub Center.
Berhalter, who’s team has just three away wins this season, knows that MLS road struggles are a problem for each team.
“Winning on the road in MLS is difficult,” he said. “I think a lot of teams experience that.”
Crew SC is one of the teams that experiences difficulty winning on the road, having also only earned 10 points from matches away from MAPFRE Stadium and are similarly on a three-match road winless streak.
With away wins so hard to come by in MLS, home wins take on even more importance.
“We have to take advantage of our home games,” Berhalter said. “In this league, the way it is, no matter who you play at home, you should be gunning for three points.”
The Black & Gold return home after two matches on the road Saturday against the Fire, looking to take advantage of Chicago’s away struggles and the home field advantage Crew SC get.
“It’s a huge game,” Berhalter admitted. “When Mapfre Stadium’s full, we’re a very difficult team to beat.”