“The same old story,” Columbus Crew SC head coach Caleb Porter summarized what’s gone on with his team following Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Orlando City SC. It was the Crew’s 14th loss in 21 games played this season. Eight of them being by a single goal.
Next up for the Black & Gold is old Major League Soccer rival Chicago Fire who, like Columbus, is vying for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Fire is coming off of a 2-1 loss to FC Cincinnati, the last-place team in MLS.
While it may look close in the standings, Chicago is above the Crew by five points and one spot which seems unattainable with the way the two teams trended to this point. This is, however, one of the more winnable games that remain for Columbus given the struggles that have haunted Porter’s team.
Let’s take a look at the Crew’s midweek opponent.
Chicago Fire at a glance
Scoring leader: CJ Sapong (striker): 8 goals
Assists leader: Nicolás Gaitán (midfielder): 8 assists
Expected Starting XI
Chicago’s Main Man
First-year Designated Player Nicolás Gaitán has done it all for the Men in Red in 2019. In 16 matches played, the Argentine registered four goals and eight assists. He’s shown his efficiency, too. The midfielder has had about half as many shots as forward CJ Sapong (23 vs. 41). It’s no surprise the former Atletico Madrid and Benfica star has adjusted to life well in MLS.
Operating as both an outside midfielder and an attacking midfielder, Gaitán is able to pass the ball exquisitely and has the ability to use either foot. He loves through balls and is lethal on the counter attack. He’s Chicago’s do-it-all playmaker and has helped begin to turrn things around for the Fire.
Gaitán enjoyed much success before coming to the MLS this season. His best career stint was with Benfica in Portugal when he was the UEFA Champions League’s leading assister in 2011-12 with five. In six seasons with Benfica (2010-16), he had 41 goals in all competitions to go with 88 assists. At 31 years of age, he’s still able to get the job done.
In his brief 16-game stint with the Argentina National Team, he helped make it to the 2016 Copa America Final, where Argentina finished as runner-ups in the tournament. He’s brought with him a skill set that Columbus needs to focus on neutralizing.
How the Crew win
We’ve been here before. Trying to find a formula for the Black & Gold has been unreachable in recent memory. Scoring goals, creating chances and playing a full 90-minute game are obvious answers to what the Crew need to do in order to secure their first win since mid-May. Frankly, even if it may sound nearly impossible, Columbus must string together a perfect game to get a victory even against a similar side (standings-wise) in the Fire.
Chicago has the depth that Columbus has lacked and are without a doubt better in nearly all areas of the pitch. While the Black & Gold have been inconsistent on both sides of the ball all season long, their primary emphasis for Wednesday must be the team’s defending if they are to see out a result. Two late errors from the backline dropped a result against the Seattle Sounders. A late lapse costed a result on Saturday versus Orlando City.
The defending has been arguably more poor than the offense in recent weeks. With playmakers Gyasi Zardes and Wil Trapp back and more adjusted, it will certainly help the offense. Crew fans can rejoice with the chance of a beefed up backline with defender Jonathan Mensah (possibly) returning from national team duty with Ghana.
Porter may have a few extra options at his disposal as well, with Luis Diaz and Romario Williams both expected to be available after participating in training on Tuesday. With the amount of depth that’s available to Porter that’s been lacking in recent weeks, this could very well be a reversal of fortune for the Crew.