After a great start to the month of April, the Fire couldn't continue the positive momentum when they traveled to Houston last Sunday. Despite giving up a goal in the 1st half, Frank's men were able to tie the game before the halftime whistle sounded. The Men in Red played a pretty good half of soccer that was filled with good possession and high pressure defense. It was clear in the 2nd half Frank had decided to go for the draw and the Fire went into a defensive shell that we have seen many times before. Unfortunately it took one free kick (more of a cross into the area really) from Brad Davis which eluded everyone and ended up in the back of the net.
On Saturday the Fire take on the Columbus Crew in what has become a must win game in my opinion. The Fire must get some winning momentum on their side again before traveling to Montreal. It is essential to reassert their home dominance after winning only 1 of 3 home games so far this season. Furthermore, the Fire try to continue their quest to become a cohesive unit to show us, the supporters, that management was right in bringing them to Chicago. Finally, it is a must win game because the Fire are playing the Crew.
After winning the season series last year 2 games to 1, the Fire look to continue taking 3 points at home versus the Crew. The Crew on the other hand look to break that trend. Columbus this year has seen its good games and bad games so far. The one thing that they do not lack is the ability to fight back in games and get a result out of games when it looks like they won't. Sound familiar? See the 2012 Chicago Fire who had to fight back in many games just to earn points. This game promises to be a good one as the players are up for it and so are the supporters.
The way the Crew have lined up each match has not changed much. Robert Warzycha has used the same starting lineup for the past 3 games. So with no fresh injuries to the Crew, this is what we may see Saturday night:
With everybody on the Fire seemingly coming back from injury, Frank may have for the first time this season the chance to select his starting XI from almost his entire roster(except for Friedrich again). If that is the case we could see the Fire start the game with this lineup:
Warzycha uses a straight forward 4-4-2 system that does not vary much. His system has not changed a great deal over the years as the core of his team has remained intact. Like the other teams that the Fire have played this season, Warzycha will look to apply high pressure against the Fire. This is going to be happening a lot to the Fire this season because Klopas has not figured out how to counter this tactic effectively, as we have covered ad nauseum before. Warzycha will also rely heavily on Higuain to lead his attack. The one thing I noticed from the Columbus vs. Montreal game is that almost every attack going forward goes through Higuain, and when he is shut down by opposing defenses they primarily use the long ball tactic. Does this sound familiar? See 2nd half of the 2011 season for the Fire. Warzycha will probably have worked on a way not to rely so heavily on Higuain, and will come up with a game plan that can counter act Frank Klopas' plan.
Frank this year has also used a 4-4-2 system but is a little different than his counterpart's system. Frank relies heavily on the counter attack in order to create offensive opportunities. Last week he had no choice but to play defensive almost the entire game. When the Fire faced the Red Bulls, Frank's counter attacking methods worked well as the Fire were able score goals on the break or on dead ball situations that were made from counters. I noticed versus Houston the Fire showed signs of playing with high pressure a few times in the 1st half. This worked to their advantage because when pressuring the Houston midfield and defense, the Fire were able to cause turnovers and errors in order to get the ball back in possession. Frank must do this more often against the Crew. This will force the Crew off their game and force turnovers that will lead to scoring opportunities.
- Pause and Larentowicz vs. Higuain- If Pause and Larentowicz are able to apply constant pressure to Higuain and take his ability to dictate the flow of the game, it will make the Crew play one dimensional. Higuain is one of those players that came into this league and shown the skill to be able to take over a game. The only problem with these players is that some teams become too reliant on their play and do not plan their tactics to compensate for them being taken out of their game plan. This results in teams falling back on desperate tactics, such as long balls. This is the tactic that Columbus will use if the Fire can shut down Warzycha's original plan. In order to make the Fire's job easier it will be crucial for Pause and Larentowicz to shut down Higuain.
- Santos(or MacDonald) vs. Marshall and Glauber- So far this season Maicon and Sherjill have not been doing their job in being a target forward that can play as a holding forward with the opposing defenders on top of them. Both of our target forwards have not been able to hold off the opposing defenders. They have to be able to do their job against the 2 center backs of the Crew or it will turn into another long night for the Fire's attack. The Fire's target forwards have to be able to hold up the ball in order for the rest of the attack to make runs off the ball in order to create offensive chances.
For the Crew there is one player on their team that has been looking forward to this game since he was traded from the Fire. Yes, Dominic Oduro. Since he was relegated to the Fire's bench after the arrival of Sherjill MacDonald in July of 2012, he wanted to be a starter and voiced his displeasure about being on the bench. Earlier this year he was traded to the Crew for Dilly Duka and the rights to Robbie Rogers. To start the season Oduro started on the bench but has recently locked down a starting spot for the Crew by scoring 3 goals this season. There is nothing that Oduro wants to do more than prove to the Fire that trading him was a mistake.
The Fire's wildcard this week is going to have to be Logan Pause. When he came back from injury against the Red Bulls, he showed that the Fire were missing his leadership in the center of the field. In Houston he played well in the 1st half as both sides enjoyed a share of attacking and opportunities to score. The 2nd half was a different story as the Pause and the Fire were forced to play a defensive game only. Pause is going to have to have a game similar to the way he played versus New York in order for the Fire to have any chance to create any form of attack.
After Saturday versus the Crew; the Fire travel to Montreal to face one of the teams that has become a contender in the Eastern Conference and then after that another bye week is on tap. It is important that they head into Montreal on a high note so they have some momentum to take with them. Frank and company do not want to go into another bye week with a bad taste in their mouths. The only problem is that I don't think the Fire are going to be on a high note when they head into Montreal and the bye week. The way that they have played the past few games shows me that this team is full of inconsistency. So for Saturday I think that the Fire offense will show up but it won't be enough for full points. The game will end in a 2-2 tie that will be full of physical play. I will go with Santos and Lindpere getting the goals for the Fire.