Last Sunday, the Chicago Fire ended the 6 game unbeaten streak of the New York Red Bulls. This Saturday, another team with a 6 game unbeaten streak comes to Toyota Park, where unbeaten streaks come to die. Yes, you read that right, the Columbus Crew are riding a 6 game unbeaten streak. Their streak is not as impressive as the one the Red Bulls had, but it is an unbeaten streak none the less.
This is the Fire's first Eastern Conference rematch of the season, and it's a big one. Columbus is sitting only two points behind the Fire and have a game in hand. We are only halfway through the season, but getting a win against Columbus would be a big step in making the Fire's playoff aspirations become a reality. What to look out for in match # 15 after the jump.
In the first match-up between these two teams, Frank Klopas had put the team into a hole before either side took the pitch. As I noted in my post-match chalkboard for that game, the Fire had played a lot of minutes that week. On average, each player who played had put in about 192 minutes over the three matches in the grueling eight day stretch. I postulated that Frank did not trust the depth of the team. A few days later, it became evident why Frank wouldn't trust them as they fell to the Michigan Bucks.
This time around, the Fire are going to be well rested, and Frank will be able to put out the starting XI of his choosing without having to think about fatigue and upcoming matches. Rafael Robayo and Federico "DP Moneyz" Puppo will not be starting; Dominic Oduro and Sebastian Grazzini will. My one hope with Grazzini is that he comes out motivated to earn a new contract instead of packing it in.
Both Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry had their hands full with Emilio Renteria the last time around. The moment that sticks out the most is Renteria's goal where he knocked Autsin Berrry over. It looked like Berry had sort of lost his footing, but Emilio also weighs near as much as Berry, but is a full six inches shorter. That's a lot of mass with a low center of gravity to deal with. Anibaba and Berry have struggled a little with physical forwards. Hopefully learned form the first go around and will be able to contain Emilio.
Speaking of Renteria, there is another player that needs to be accounted for in the Crew's attack in the homeless looking Eddie Gavin. Gavin had a goal and an assist in the last match and could have had more it he wanted. Gavin ran free and the Fire didn't seem to have an answer for him. Columbus tends to prefer playing in a diamond 4-4-2 with Gavin playing as the left midfielder. But after the success he had against the Chicago playing behind Renteria in a 4-4-1-1, I don't see why they wouldn't try it again.
The biggest obstacle for the Fire to win this match is going to be the Crew defense. Yes, predicting that the Fire need goals two win is a bit of a no-brainer, but the Crew have only conceded 13 goals in 13 matches, which is one of the best goals against rate in the league. Josh Williams and Carlos Mendes are a pretty tough pairing in the center of the Crew's defensive line. Goal keeper Andy Gruenebaum is leading the league in saves and has more than likely taken WIlliam Hesmer's job. Goals will not come easy against this bunch.
Prediction: I expect a well rested and motivated Fire squad at home will handle the Crew. Fire win 2-1.