With Major League Soccer’s international break in the books, the Columbus Crew returns to action for the last time in historic Crew Stadium on Saturday night. The Crew looks to send off Crew Stadium in a fitting fashion against old foes, the Chicago Fire, renewing one of the oldest rivalries in MLS history.
Let’s take a look at what to expect in this matchup and how the Black & Gold can ensure that the last game in Crew Stadium results in a win.
Chicago Fire at a Glance:
Record: 1-5-1, 4 points
League Form: L-W-L-L-L
Leading Scorer: Luka Stojanovic (3)
Assist Leader: Boris Sekulic (2)
Player to Watch: Alvaro Medran
Medran has established himself as the key cog in the machine for Chicago in his second year with the side. The Spaniard joined the Fire after an extensive career in his native country, including stints with clubs such as Getafe, Valencia and even Real Madrid. His passing ability makes him an important piece of Chicago’s game plan as he is often asked to pull the strings in the midfield. He can often be found drifting into space in the attacking third before finding the key passes required for the Fire to create dangerous opportunities.
Despite a relative lack of production on the stat sheet, Medran is no doubt a key part of Chicago’s attacking plans. With uncertainty for the Crew in midfield, there will be a considerable awareness of the danger that Medran can pose.
If the Black & Gold are able to hold him in check, it could go a long way in ensuring that the Columbus takes all three points.
How the Fire play:
The Fire has been one of the more confusing teams in the MLS over the last year and a half under head coach Raphael Wicky. Wicky has imposed a distinct style on Chicago tactically, but the team has struggled with results since his tenure began.
Generally speaking, the Fire has a big emphasis on maintaining possession of the ball. When the team is able to successfully move the ball into the attacking third, the players usually look to play a ball in behind the opposing defensive line. On defense, the Fire typically look to press high up the field and try to trap the ball when it goes to the opponents’ outside backs. If the opponent is able to break this pressure, Chicago typically drops into a deeper defensive shape to force the opponent backward and limit attacking opportunities. The Fire has consistently struggled to keep clean sheets in Wicky’s tenure.
Despite playing an attractive style of play and routinely being able to create high-quality chances, Chicago continues to struggle. In fact, coming into this match the Fire is in a tie for last place in MLS with FC Cincinnati.
However, Chicago still poses a threat as the team is capable not only of dominating possession but creating goal scoring chances regularly. In fact, the Fire has an expected goals of 10.1 so far in 2021 but has only converted four times. Despite the struggles, a team with a playing style like Chicago’s will always pose a threat to the Black & Gold.
How the Crew can win:
Saturday will no doubt be a tough task for Caleb Porter and his squad, despite the Fire’s record. In order to send off historic Crew Stadium the right way, there are a few things for the Crew to focus on to make sure the team is successful in this match.
Firstly, the start to this match will be key for the Black & Gold. Columbus has not played in three weeks and the lineup will likely feature players who have not played a ton of minutes for the Crew, Thus, the Black & Gold will need to look to start confidently and effectively in order to gain confidence in this match. In addition, the Fire will feel confident in the team’s ability to turn things around after this break and the chance to improve the squad and tactical game plan. A good start to the match will go a long way towards helping the Crew secure three points.
In addition, Columbus will need to dominate possession for the majority of the game. Of course, the game isn’t won on possession, but it is such a large part of each team’s game plan that it will likely determine the winner of this game. If the Black & Gold are able to dominate possession, not only will it help them execute their game plan, it will also force the Fire to defend for long periods of time, which is something they have not done well so far this year. Thus, the team that holds the majority of possession will have a huge advantage in this match.
Lastly, the Crew will need to continue to be effective in attacking transition. In the team’s most recent match against Toronto FC, Columbus was able to score twice in these moments. With the Fire’s playing style, the Black & Gold will likely have opportunities to attack quickly once they win the ball off Chicago. If the Crew is able to effectively attack in these moments, it could lead to a bundle of scoring opportunities.
If Columbus is able to start strong, dominate possession and attack in transition moments, the team will feel good about its chances to take three points from this matchup.