It was a game that Columbus Crew SC fans had seen many times before in Bridgeview. The visitors just can't finish thier chances and the Chicago Fire escape with the points. Crew SC lost thier second straight as Nemanja Nikolic scored the lone goal in a bitterly cold night.
The Fire nearly got on the board first as Josh Williams, making his first start of the season, fumbled a short goalkeeper distribution and was put under immediate pressure. His turnover forced Zack Steffen into a heads up play to cut out the resulting cross, but it was all Crew SC after that early chance.
Milton Valenzuela would nearly get Columbus on the board in the 4th minute as Columbus pressed downfield on the counter. Cristian Martinez whipped in a cross that the rookie one timed past the left post.
Just over ten minutes later, the visitors again got a great look at goal. Federico Higuain broke the Fire lines with a chipped pass into Artur. The Brazilian was one on one with Richard Sanchez and played a chip that skittered wide. Gyasi Zardes picked up the ball along the touchline and cut the ball back to Martinez. His bending right foot shot drove just past the post.
Again, Columbus had a perfect chance to break the deadlock, this time in the 20th minute. Zardes pressed the Fire backline and picked up the ball. He then outmuscled Bastian Schweinsteiger to get one on one with Sanchez. He fired off a hard shot, but a recovering Kevin Ellis killed off the danger with a sliding block.
After Crew SC controlled the opening of the game it would be an unfortunate error and a gift that would open the scoring for the home side. Just after another Zardes chance, the offense reset and Steffen took a pass back from the defense and attempted to play the ball into Wil Trapp. He under-hit the pass and Nicolic intercepted and bore down on Steffen. He easily beat the stranded keeper and the home side had the lead against the run of play.
Columbus responded, trying to claw back the goal and again had several chances, but the Fire settled into the unexpected role and drew back their defense. Crew SC, despite owning the possession edge, went 15 minutes without a shot. Higuain would test Sanchez just before the half, but his attempt was parried high.
Again, the Fire nearly had a gifted goal when Pedro Santos took a short corner that was intercepted just before the halftime whistle by Diego Campos. He quickly turned up field with only the Crew SC safety man Valenzuela back to cover. The rookie left back made a game saving tackle just above his own 18 yard box to snuff out the chance.
Crew SC would up the pressure again in the second half. The visitors would hold a decided possession advantage and continued to pepper the Fire goal with 12 second half shots.
None of the 12 shots would officially count as on target, but Crew SC were able to hit the woodwork twice on the evening. In the 72nd minute, a more advanced Wil Trapp sent in a lofted ball into the box. Zardes was able to boot it towards goal, but it rang the underside of the crossbar and caromed out. The Fire cleared the danger to keep the visitors scoreless.
Columbus would come close again just five minutes later. As Crew SC swung the ball wide, Harrison Afful sent the ball into Zardes and the forward cut the ball back to Mohammed Abu. The second half substitute unleashed a long range shot that struck the left upright and bounced out. Again the Fire cleared.
Crew SC would come no closer as the Fire tightened their defensive lines. Columbus would only fire off three long range efforts as the home side closed out the game.
Gregg Berhalter made a rare double sub in the 57th minute as Martinez and Artur made way for Abu and Niko Hansen. Martinez was a straight swap according to Berhalter, but Abu for Artur was an attempt to change the game. Abu’s ability to spread the field with his passing allowed Crew SC to play wider. It also put Trapp in a role to make plays further up the field. It almost worked.
Crew SC’s 72% possession edge in the second half turned into 12 shots. Only three of them were taken in the box in front of the goal. Credit goes to the very stout Fire defense. Playing a patchwork lineup, they packed the backline with five bodies throughout the second half.
Crew SC now heads to Annapolis next Saturday to face the still struggling D.C. United in a rare home match for the “homeless until midseason” United. Columbus will be trying to break a two game losing streak that has dropped them to 3-2-1, 10 points on the season.