The 2020 Major League Soccer regular season kicks back off on Thursday for Columbus Crew SC at MAPFRE Stadium. The team’s first opponent in the resumption of the MLS season is long-time Eastern Conference rival, the Chicago Fire.
The two teams haven’t faced off in 354 days when Fire midfielder Przemysław Frankowski historically equalized for Chicago in the 94th minute, tying the game at 1-1. It was the two sides’ second consecutive draw in as many meetings in 2019, after a 2-2 draw in mid-July.
Both the Crew and the Fire have seen opposite starts to their short 2020 campaigns. Columbus sits atop of the Eastern Conference with 13 points and Chicago near the bottom in 12th place with only four points.
To get a better idea of what the Crew can expect in their first game since MLS is Back, let’s take a look at the Chicago Fire.
Chicago Fire at a glance
Form: L-D-W-L-L (bold denoting MLS is Back results)
Goals leader: Robert Beric (2)
Assists leader: Djordje Mihailović (2)
Player to watch: Djordje Mihailović
The 21 year old from Lemont, Illinois is undoubtedly the catalyst in an overall average Fire side. Leading Chicago with two assists on the season, Mihailović is looking to build upon a 2019 campaign in which he logged two goals and three assists in 27 matches played. His three key passes per game average is a team high and his knack for getting into good defensive positions will make him a target for the Black & Gold to shut down.
Chicago Fire Season Summary
The Fire has so far had a season to forget in 2020. Despite the break of play due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chicago has had their worst start to a season since only 2018, where the team managed to also pick up four points from its first five fixtures. Thee -4 goal differential by the Fire is second worst in the Eastern Conference and among the worst in the entire league, managing only four goals while conceding eight.
Chicago’s season began with a loss and a draw to Seattle Sounders and New England Revolution respectively. The Fire failed to make it to the knockout stage of the MLS is Back Tournament after losses to the Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes, while seeing out a revenge 2-1 victory against Seattle and finishing with three points. Chicago lost the tiebreaker to Vancouver on goal differential.
How the Crew win
Despite the differences in seasons between the two sides, many questions are still to be asked with the MLS season getting back underway. How will travel effect away teams? Will players from bottom teams be on board with the remainder of the season? How are motivation levels? Time will tell just how certain teams react to the situation at large.
This shouldn’t nerve head coach Caleb Porter or the Crew whatsoever. Home teams should have a heavier advantage than ever before but that’s not to say Porter will treat this match any differently than any he’s prepared for in the past. However, the Crew will win if the team can simply play the game the group has most of the season. While Chicago may plan on allowing the Crew possession and forcing to break the defense down (ala Minnesota United), Columbus has the class that the Fire simply do not possess.
The Black & Gold’s crispness on set pieces will be an important watch for fans. The goal conceded against Minnesota on a corner and another that should have found the back of the net may have shown a weakness in this Crew side. How Porter will have used the time in between the end of tournament play and now to address this issue will be telling.
If Columbus can play its game on the counter attack and win the battle in midfield, the Black & Gold should have no problem holding down their position in the race for the Supporter’s Shield and a top spot in the MLS Cup playoffs.