Playoff hopes remain high for Columbus Crew SC with only five games remaining in the 2019 Major League Soccer season. Match week 30 features the Crew hosting long-time conference rivals, the Chicago Fire at MAPFRE Stadium.
Both sides sit in very similar positions. Columbus trails Chicago in the standings by only one seed and a mere three points. Both teams are on the outside looking in as far as playoffs are concerned and trail both the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC, who have 37 points. Orlando City SC remains in between with 34 points and a game in hand. A win against the Fire would see the Black & Gold go even on points with 33 with four matches remaining.
The Fire come to MAPFRE Stadium having won three of the team’s previous five contests. However, Chicago has lost two of its previous three.
Let’s take a look at what Columbus can expect in the Fire and how the team can come away with three points.
Chicago Fire at a glance
Leading scorer: Nemanja Nikolić (forward): 11 goals
Assist leader: Nicolás Gaitán (midfielder): 10 assists
Chicago Fire Expected Starting XI
About the 2019 Fire
Although looking dismal in the standings, Chicago has put up quite the solid campaign in 2019. Along the way, the team has tallied 38 assists, which ranks as 11th best in the MLS. The 43 goals scored puts the Fire at ninth best. The team’s goal differential of +1 would put the team as a top-five side in the Eastern Conference. So, why do the Fire barely hover over a Crew team that have had a season to forget?
Well, seven of Chicago’s 12 losses have come by only a single goal. On average, the Fire have conceded a game-winning goal in the 64th minute. Five of the team’s seven losses have seen the team concede game-winners in the 80th minute or later. Needless to say, putting together a complete 90 minutes has been a struggle for head coach Veljko Paunovic and company, much like Columbus.
The help has come all over the place for Chicago, as the Fire has two players who have achieved double-digit goals in Nikolic (11) and fellow forward C.J. Sapong (10). The main playmaker is former Atletico Madrid standout Nicolás Gaitán who has certainly made his mark in his first season in the MLS. He has tallied four goals and his 10 assists rank as eighth best in the league as a whole from an individual standpoint.
How the Crew win
Let’s face it: Columbus NEEDS three points if the Crew is to keep its very slim playoff hopes alive. Two of the Black & Gold’ss remaining games include playoff contenders in Chicago and Toronto. Anything less than wins against both teams aren’t remotely a thought process for head coach Caleb Porter.
If Columbus can neutralize Gaitán, all the while keeping the backline stiff, thee Crew can certainly come away with a win. Last weeks win against FC Cincinnati served as motivation moving forward. It was, however, against a team that shouldn’t even be in the league as far as their 2019 point total goes.
It’s time for the Black & Gold to prove themselves yet again against a worthy opponent. All the while keeping the goals coming as well. Unbeaten in seven of the previous eight, the Crew is on a stretch that could have set the team up better than today stands if achieved months ago. It’s easy to live in the past in MLS so all the Crew can think about is the now and the now is getting three points in the most bunches as possible, next against the Chicago Fire.