Storied rivals reconvene Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium as both clubs are set to renew their hate for one another.
Columbus Crew SC and the Chicago Fire last met at MAPFRE Stadium for the first match of the 2017 season on March 4th. The match tied at 1-1, and the meeting told us little about each club and where they were heading in the season.
The next contest took place in Bridgeview just five weeks later. It was the second match for their newly signed Designated Player Bastian Schweinsteiger. Despite some criticism of the signing, Schweinsteiger’s game against a talented Crew SC side proved that the 33 year old still has gas in the tank.
After two early season meetings, the Black & Gold and the Men in Red do battle for the third and final time in the 2017 regular season. Let’s take a look at how Chicago looks coming into this match.
Chicago at a glance:
Goal Leader: Nemanja Nikolic (16)
Assists Leader: David Accam (7)
The three-headed monster of Luis Solignac, Nemanja Nikolic, and David Accam are an intimidating force for opposing defenses. The trio have scored at an alarming rate during the 2017 season, tallying a combined 33 goals.
If one of those players slacks, the Fire are quick to get contributions from role players such as Arturo Alverez or Michael De Leeuw.
Crew SC fans need to keep an eye on Accam. This dynamic player possesses a tremendous amount of speed and is capable of causing havoc for the opposition.
The Ghanian’s goal-scoring prowess has been documented around the league, but Accam has adapted his game to become a better facilitator and distributor of the ball with seven assists in 2017.
The Fire’s Midfield
The midfield for the Men in Red is one of the strongest in the league as there is something to be said for age and experience.
The acquisition of Dax McCarty has proven to be a huge stepping stone in turning things around for Chicago this season, and left many questioning why the New York Red Bulls were even willing to part ways with the midfielder.
McCarty is one of the key cogs for the Fire defensive efforts and works to steady the ship in times of duress. The midfielder averages 2.5 tackles per game and trails only fellow midfielders Schweinsteiger and Juninho in passing percentage in the defensive-third, completing 85 percent of his passes.
Chicago often looks to the Brazilian Juninho to support McCarty on the defensive side of the ball. Like McCarty, Juninho completes an astounding 89 percent of his passes in the defensive third, but has missed both matches this season against Crew SC.
The man who will steal most of the headlines for the Fire is Schweinsteiger. The German is a general in the midfield and looks to set his teammates up whenever possible. He is tied for the team lead in key passes with the aforementioned Accam at 1.6 key passes per game and completes 84 percent of his passes while he is on the pitch.
Despite all of his successes this season in Major League Soccer, Schweinsteiger is nowhere to be found when the Fire play away from home. The midfielder has yet to find the scoresheet for the Men in Red on the road.
Matt Lampson isn’t a stranger to Black & Gold fans. The Fire shot stopper spent the first four years of his career wearing the colors of his hometown club.
The Hilliard, OH native struggled with injury in the latter half of his career with Columbus and a change of scene was needed. Lampson moved on to Bridgeview and, after sitting behind other starters, has recently begun to make an impact.
Lampson is tied for fourth in MLS with six shutouts this season and has a goals against average of 0.93.
How Crew SC win
Many will look at this fixture and think there is no way that Columbus can come away with a result in this match. However as our Collin Johnson pointed out this week, the Fire have just two wins and 10 points on the road this season and are winless in the last three away matches.
The Black & Gold can take it to the Fire this week by finishing those easy chances and being the boss team in their final third of the pitch. Forward Ola Kamara must fight through his recent struggles in the team’s new formation and return to the form of a top level MLS striker.
Midfielder Justin Meram said earlier this week that he will look to play as more of a “facilitator” these next couple of weeks as we have began to see a blossoming relationship between him and fellow winger Kekuta Manneh. That relationship progress in these final 10 matches, especially as playmaker Federico Higuain continues to miss out.
We have said this before and we will say it again, the Crew SC defense must reduce mistakes for the team to be successful. Chicago has scored just 12 goals on the road this season. If the defense can band together with performances like we saw in the Minnesota United and Philadelphia Union games, there is no reason to think that Crew SC may take the second place Fire by surprise on Saturday night.