It’s said that “all good things must come to an end.” This holds true for Columbus Crew SC, who saw its 14-game regular season unbeaten streak come to an end when the Vancouver Whitecaps walked out of MAPFRE Stadium with a 2-1 win last Saturday.
Columbus now shifts its focus to Bridgeview, Illinois and the struggling Chicago Fire.
The Men in Red have some work to do after suffering a less than desirable beginning to the 2018 campaign. But head coach Veljko Paunovic still has time to put it all together. The Fire boast a ton of potential, but can they get things figured out before it’s too late?
Let’s take a look at this week’s opponent.
Fire at a glance:
Leading Scorer: Nemanja Nikolic (3)
Assists leader: Two players tied with 2 assists
Problems at the back
The Fire had a rotation of goalkeepers in 2017 as Matt Lampson, Jorge Bava, Richard Sanchez and Stefan Cleveland all spit time between the posts for the Men in Red. Paunovic inexplicably allowed his two most senior keepers, in Lampson and Bava, to exit Chicago this past offseason and opened the door for Sanchez and Cleveland to become one and two on the depth chart.
Both keepers have just five collective professional starts. Paunovic awarded the starting job to Sanchez at the beginning of the season, and so far the 24 year old looks shaky in his first few appearances.
In Chicago’s first match against Sporting Kansas City, Sanchez appeared to have a disconnect with his backline. Several times throughout the match, defenders got turned around and easily lost their mark. These mishaps generated fantastic scoring opportunities for Sporting, as Peter Vermes and his men capitalized on those errors and made the Fire pay on the scoreboard.
Things didn’t improve for Sanchez in subsequent games against the Minnesota Impact and the Portland Timbers. The young goalkeeper continues to make questionable decisions and lacked rebound control, and these decisions proved costly.
The unstable defense and lack of confidence from the goalkeeper could yield great results for a hungry Crew SC offense.
The Fire defense is ravaged by injuries and it’s beginning to show on the field. The Men in Red appear unsettled and lack confidence to take control of a game in the defensive end. Communication needs to improve as the Fire get caught either ball watching or closing down on the opposition too aggressively.
Here is an example from last week’s match against Portland:
The Man with the Golden Boot
Despite all of its struggles, Chicago still possesses a strong offensive attack. Reigning Golden Boot winner Nemanja Nikolic continues to prove dangerous for opposing defenses. He thrives off chaotic situations as most of his goals this season have been prototypical poachers goals.
Nikolic also receives significant assistance from outside back Brandon Vincent. Like Crew SC, the Fire look to utilize the outside backs to make overlapping runs up the pitch and get service into the penalty box at the last possible moment. The Black & Gold need to remain guarded against Vincent. The defender is capable of putting shots on frame and causing problems from the opposing goalkeeper.
How Crew SC win
A high pressure and persistent attack will do the trick for Crew SC in this fixture. Chicago have yet to prove they can stop a quick offensive attack. Expect to see the Black & Gold pass with pace and get creative on the attack in an effort to deceive the Fire defense.
Columbus must remained guarded at the back as Chicago can score quickly.
As mentioned, The Fire rely on getting wide and providing service into the penalty box as Nikolic looks to hammer it home. Although issues have been documented with the Chicago, this team can go on a tear and start a comeback quickly. The Men in Red scored three goals in 12 minutes as they worked to establish a comeback against Kansas City. Runs like this are the reason that Crew SC must play a complete game from start to finish.