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Massive Scouting Report: Chicago Fire vs. Crew SC

Columbus looks to close out a busy week with three points against a familiar foe

MLS: Chicago Fire at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a busy week for Columbus Crew SC. The Black & Gold began the week by earning a draw at the Seattle Sounders against tough odds last Saturday. Crew SC continued its positive momentum later in the week by claiming a 1-0 victory against the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday evening. The Black & Gold finish off its three-games-in-eight-day stretch by welcoming rivals Chicago Fire to MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday evening.

The Men in Red travel to Columbus in good spirits after a midweek victory over the Montreal Impact. The Fire benefited from the late-game heroics of defender Kevin Ellis, who made an impressive attacking run into the final third, striking a ball that fooled everyone in Toyota Park, including Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush to seal the victory for Chicago.

Fire at a glance

Form: W-D-L-W

Leading Scorer: Nemanja Nikolic (5)

Assists Leader: Bastian Schweinsteiger (3)

The previous matchup

Toyota Park remained a house of horrors for the Black & Gold when these two teams met on April 8th. Crew SC dominated possession and created quality scoring chances but couldn’t finish when it mattered.

The game turned on its head in the 26th minute when Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen inexplicably passed the ball into the center of the park. Nikolic intercepted the pass and finished off the easy chance, as Chicago held on to claim a 1-0 victory. The Fire come into Saturday’s match with some confidence against Crew SC. The Men in Red have won two of the last three against the Black & Gold.

Stopping Nikolic

This will be imperative to how successful Crew SC is on Saturday night. Nikolic possesses an ability to find the empty space on the pitch and creating a dangerous attacking presence. The reigning Major League Soccer Golden Boot winner has five goals this season and could be the difference maker on Saturday night. Crew SC cannot have heavy legs when defending this forward or it could be a long day at the office.

Breakthrough

As mentioned earlier, Crew SC did just about everything right in its last encounter with the Fire, but failed to find the back of the net. The Black & Gold must remain patient and get creative in its attack.

On Wednesday evening. midfielder Cristian Martinez showed a lot of promise with his attacking runs down the wings and demonstrated great chemistry with forward Gyasi Zardes. The Black & Gold should possess a potent attack on Saturday night with the return of Pedro Santos. Martinez could continue to surprise fans if he replicates his form from Wednesday evening.

How Crew SC win

Columbus needs to finish its chances. In Wednesday’s match against Philadelphia, Crew SC worked to get the ball into dangerous areas and created scoring opportunities from all over the pitch.

The Fire struggle with defending down the wings and Columbus will look to exploit that weakness. Expect Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter to utilize the same tactic we saw against the Union on Wednesday night. Berhalter matched up Martinez against Keegan Rosenberry and occasionally sent Zardes wide to take on the outside back.

This tactic earned the Black & Gold a goal, ultimately proving the difference maker in the midweek contest.

Expect much of the traditional Crew SC starting lineup to play in this match. Berhalter and his staff have done an excellent job at managing everyone’s minutes throughout Crew SC’s first encounter with match congestion this season. This familiar group of player should yield a positive result for the Black & Gold as it looks to defend its seven match home unbeaten streak against Chicago (5-0-2).