clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Massive Scouting Report: Chicago Fire

A look at how the Columbus Crew can overtake the Fire on the road,

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Chicago Fire Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

He is here Columbus Crew fans. Cucho Hernandez has been training with the first team and should see the field against the Chicago Fire on Saturday. While fans should be excited for Hernandez, there may need to be a tempering of expectations for his debut. Head coach Caleb Porter said that the striker will play 20-30 minutes against Chicago, as the team aims to ramp him up in fitness.

While Major League Soccer kicked off its Heineken rivalry week on Friday, for Crew fans it feels like rivalry month. Right before July started the Black & Gold secured the Trillium Cup with a victory against Toronto, which was followed by a disappointing draw at home to Philadelphia. Now Columbus travels to rival the Fire, followed by a trip to D.C. United four days later and then finally they will host the Hell Is Real Derby against FC Cincinnati on July 17.

It will be a busy July and the Crew should be eager to get points against Eastern Conference rivals this month, as both Chicago and D.C. are tied at the bottom of the East with 17 points.

But let’s look at the upcoming match.

Chicago Fire at a glance:

Record: 4-9-5 17 pts (14th in the East)

League Form: L-W-L-W-L

Leading Scorer: Kacper Prybylko, Xherdan Shaqiri (3)

Assist Leader: Xherdan Shaqiri (6)

Player to Watch: Xherdan Shaqiri

If you only look at goals scored, Shaqiri has been a disappointment. But he has actually been quite good for Chicago. The Fire lacks the surrounding talent to make use of Shaqiri’s strengths which includes incredible vision and being one of the best in the league at the final passes, including on corner kicks. With three goals and six assists, Shaqiri has been a part of nine of the Fire’s 16 goals.

Shaqiri plays the No. 10 position for Chicago but often drifts wide to either side so the Fire can make use of his crossing ability. The Black & Gold will need to be wary if Shaqiri gets into space or the Fire get a free kick at the top of the penalty box as he has the quality and the right bend to the ball to score from these positions but has not yet done so for Chicago.

How the Chicago Fire plays:

At the beginning of the season, the Fire was undefeated in the team’s first five matches and only gave up one goal in those games. Since then, Chicago has given up 23 goals and has beaten only three teams — D.C. United, Sporting Kansas City and the Philadelphia Union. Both D.C. and SKC are at the bottom of their conferences, while Philadelphia is first place in the East.

Chicago will look to stay in the game by pressing defensively, trying to disrupt the passing sequences of the opponent and then playing out wide to play crosses into Prybylko. The Fire has been notable better since acquiring Chris Mueller from Hibernian. Mueller has added speed and quality on the left wing for Chicago and has given the Fire another player to play through other than Shaqiri.

The Fire relies heavily on the new additions of Shaqiri, Prybylko and Mueller. Once Chicago gets the ball, the team will look to get Shaqiri the ball and hope he can beat the defense. Everything good will come through Shaqiri, but often he has no reliable targets for his pinpoint passing. Prybylko has not lived up to what the Fire had hoped for when he was acquired from the Philadelphia Union.

Oddly Chicago has allowed 24 goals, but young goalkeeper Gaga Slonina has seven clean sheets. If the Fire gives up a goal, they are likely to give up a second goal.

How the Crew can win:

Chicago is tied for the worst team in the league at scoring, with only 16 goals for in 18 games. If Columbus can frustrate Shaqiri and deal well with the many crosses that will come into the penalty box, the Crew will put themselves in a position to not lose. In the MLS Cup, Aidan Morris frustrated and essential shut down Nico Lodeiro, the Black & Gold could use a similar approach to stop Shaqiri. Scoring will then become the issue.

Columbus should look to dominate the midfield and play through the Fire’s press. If the Crew can do this, it will open the line-breaking passes in behind the Chicago defense. Hernandez should be able to make these runs in behind, but he will not start. Jacen Russell-Rowe has been making better runs to play in behind then Migue Berry this season.

The possession game is exactly why the Black & Gold have Darlington Nagbe, and with the confidence Nagbe has been taking shots from outside of the penalty box, this could be his game to win for Columbus. As good as Slonina has been, he has not always dealt well with shots from outside of the 18-yard box, often parrying them away if he can reach them. Lucas Zelarayan also should look to take early shots, and the other Crew attackers should crash the box looking for the second ball.

Hernandez scored on his Watford debut. A score in his Crew debut would get fans very excited for the rest of the season.