And it continues. Yes that's right, the Chicago Fire are now up to a 6 game unbeaten streak in all competitions. Next up in their sights is that "Yellow Team" as the Fire travel to Columbus this weekend. The Fire look to continue an impressive run of form as they look to take all 3 points in Ohio and try to make up more ground in the Eastern Conference.
This past Wednesday the Fire took 3 points from the Colorado Rapids at Toyota Park with a 2-1 win. They fell behind early to the Rapids thanks to a goal scored by Deshorn Brown off of an awful turnover by Austin Berry. None other than Magic Mike Magee equalized with a penalty kick that was a result of a hand ball in the area by Wynne. Magee has now scored in every game with the Fire since being acquired back at the end of May. Magee should have had a 2nd of the night if not for having one of his feet offside. Early in the 2nd half Austin Berry atoned for his mistake by putting away a cross from "Captain Big Red" Jeff Larentowicz. This game could have been a draw in the last minute if not for Tony Cascio ringing the ball off the post. The Fire showed that they need improvement in certain areas still despite the win. We also know that the Fire offense goes starts and stops with Magee.
Columbus on the other hand are coming off a week in which they lost to the Fire in the Open Cup but then managed to beat 1st place Montreal Impact. They will be riding the positive momentum built by shutting out the Impact and being able to put up 2 goals against the Eastern Conference leaders. Considering that they have 2 key starters out for the year this was an impressive result for them. They will be looking to exact some revenge on the Fire from the loss they suffered a little over a week ago. The one main advantage the Crew will have in this game is that this time they are the ones that have the extra rest. Either way this should be a fun game between the 2 Midwestern rivals, as always.
Warzycha over the past month has had to deal with fixture congestion and the injury bug. This is where his team's depth is tested. With a couple starters lost for the season and other starters just coming back from injury, here is what I think he will go with on Saturday:
This being the 2nd game within 7 days, I would hope Frank Klopas juggles his lineup a little bit and tries to rest some of the key starters that will be used Wednesday night versus Orlando City. This past Wednesday Mike Magee did come out early as a precaution so maybe starting Rolfe and Santos up top might be beneficial so he can get some rest. This is a lineup that I would choose in order to rest a couple of the starters:
- Berry and Soumare vs. Oduro- Back on Thursday, June 13th when the Fire played the Crew in the Open Cup, Oduro did not start but came on early in the 1st half due to an injury. Oduro gave our back line some problems using his speed and this was evident in their win versus Montreal a week ago. If Berry and Soumare can neutralize Oduro's speed and take away the passing lanes that the Crew might use to try to get Oduro the ball, we will be in good shape. Another thing that Oduro does well is capitalize on the defense's mistakes. In the Open Cup game, Berry and especially Soumare had some sloppy passes and poor clearances. This is something that Oduro thrives on. Hopefully the Fire have cleaned it up a bit and will have less mental lapses than they have been having. The last 20 minutes of the Rapids game certainly makes me worried for tomorrow. Baky and Austin need to get it together, and pronto.
- Marshall and Gehrig vs. Rolfe and Santos- With Marshall just coming back from injury and not having a lot of playing time with Gehrig, this may be a good chance to take advantage of an unfamiliar partnership in the Crew's defense. Yes, the Crew did shut out the 1st place Montreal Impact last weekend but you may consider that a fluke game. The Fire's forwards should try to exploit this weakness as they look to continue their good form.
If Warzycha expects to get any offense Saturday against the Fire he will have to rely heavily on his Argentine playmaker, Federico Higuain. So far this season he has 4 goals and 3 assists. He is the heartbeat of the Crew's offense. Like I said earlier in the season, Higuain is the guy that orchestrates almost every single attack and if you give him space he will punish you for it. I have a feeling that he will be shut down and ineffective on Saturday, but if he is not he can punish the Fire and kill off the momentum that has been built over the past 4 weeks.
For the Fire I have to go with Chris Rolfe. Lately he hasn't seemed like himself and has not been as productive as everyone had hoped. He needs that break out game to get himself out of the slump he is in and I think this is that game. We all know that he can score and be a game changer but lately he has not had one of those games that can be a stepping stone for him. Being 1 of 3 players on the team to have started every game this season he has got to start showing more, especially with summer additions possible that might relegate him to a bench role.
The Fire offense is scoring an average of just under 2 goals per game and the defense has been getting the job done despite looking shaky at times. Columbus has had a week off since their last game and are getting key pieces of their team back. Something has got to give right? Well, not this week for the Fire. I think that they will go in to Columbus and take all 3 points with a tough fought and at times ugly game. Final score 2-0 with goals from Rolfe and Nyarko.