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Massive Scouting Report: Chicago Fire

Crew SC head on the road for the second time in a week to battle the demons that haunt them in Bridgeview.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

For the second time in a week, Columbus Crew SC hit the road to take on an Eastern Conference opponent. The Black & Gold renew their rivalry with the Chicago Fire for a rare Thursday night match.

Crew SC didn’t enjoy its last road trip, losing 3-1 to Atlanta United. Josef Martinez moved onto the Mount Rushmore of goal scorers in Major League Soccer, and the Five Stripes continued to pad their lead in the Eastern Conference.

Things in Chicago haven’t been great this season. The Fire front office haven’t been tremendously kind to their fans. The Fire released a statement following a match that it was cancelling season tickets for members of section 101 or “Sector Latino.” This comes off the heels of a rouge member incorrectly associated with the group violating the pyro rules put in place by MLS and the Fire.

On the field things haven’t gone much better. Chicago has lost its last eight matches in Major League Soccer. Many members of the media and fans are beginning to call for the dismissal of head coach Veljko Paunovic. Despite the record of their rivals, Crew SC must remain on guard when playing the Fire in Bridgeview. The home team has earned a point in the last six matches between Columbus and Chicago.

Fire at a glance

Form: L-L-L-L

Leading Goal Scorer: Nemanja Nikolic (11)

Assists leader: Bastian Schweinsteiger (5)

When they last played

Both teams have split the regular season matches to this point and Thursday evening will be the rubber match. The Fire won back in April 1-0, off the strength of a Nemanja Nikolic goal. Crew SC answered back in May with a 3-0 victory of the strength of a brace from forward Gyasi Zardes.

Smart defending

There isn’t much on this Chicago squad that can hurt Crew SC. The Men in Red are fourth-worst in the Eastern Conference in goals for with 36. The Black & Gold must limit mental mistakes and execute throughout the entirety of this match. Limit the chances from Nikolic and Bastian Schweinsteiger and force the Fire youngsters to beat you should be the Black & Gold’s strategy.

Could J9 start?

This would be a prime opportunity for Justin Meram, who recently returned from a six-month move away to Orlando City, to crack the starting lineup. Crew SC haven’t encountered match congestion in a while and the added depth Meram provides could help the Black & Gold be successful in Bridgeview. Since returning, fans have been treated to glimpses of skill and brilliance from the Iraqi international and are waiting to eagerly to see when he can go the distance.

How Crew SC win

Gregg Berhalter and his team must play smart and tactical soccer. Too many times mental errors have cost the Black & Gold three points and this is a prime opportunity to sneak out of Bridgeview with points.

Limit the chances from Nikolic and Schweinsteiger and be patient with attacking opportunities. Don’t give up silly chances to players like Alexander Katai or the returning Micael De Leeuw, those players are equally capable of hurting the opposition and causing nervy moments for the defense.

It’s likely that Panovic will put most of his team behind the ball, foul often and look to disrupt the Crew SC flow in the attacking third. Columbus must remain methodical in its approach and work the ball into dangerous portions of the pitch.

Black & Gold fans are hoping for a better outcome then Sunday afternoon. It looks like Crew SC could escape with points on the road in Bridgeview, points that could go a long way in the later portions of the season.