The Fire come wobbling into this game like a car with unbalanced tires, a state brought home by last week's game-management dumpster-fire in the 2-2 draw with NYCFC. This is a team on the verge of becoming something, but whether it will be a winning MLS side or some configuration more enigmatic is not yet known.
The evidence that this team, this roster could win a lot of games is right there to be seen - some of their best attributes are their most obvious. The attack almost casually sliced through New York's defense again and again for the first hour, creating chances and near-chances through the defense-stretching game of David Accam and the creative promptings of Harry Shipp and Shaun Maloney. Maloney, in particular, was in fine form, his darting movements and huge variety of passing styles making mountains out of back-post molehills.
But with that ease came a certain laxity, an impatience, which translated into a frustrating directness. The Fire, having seemingly forgotten their ability to keep the ball, fell into a defensive shell over the game's final half-hour, and it was there that the contrary evidence showed itself.
For years now, long before anyone on the current roster wore the badge, the Men in Red have been prone to late-game brain-farts of every description: Letting opposing corner-kicks bounce in the area and the like. David Villa's moment of clarity, his clean turn and perfect leading ball to Khiry Shelton for the tying goal, were very compelling, but what of that pocket of space? What of the marking on Villa? What of the mazy, 11-pass sequence that proceeded it?
That is the evidence of a team emerging which lacks either the swagger to take a game by the throat, or the cold-eyed will to see it out from a winning position. And that's what we're looking for today, when they travel to a better field to play a much better team than the shambolic Hudson River gang.
The good news this week is that basically everyone's available, save Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko - and Magee is back to practice! His addition would surely help in both the swagger and cold-eyed will departments, although expectations have to be managed for a guy coming off an 8-month rehab.
Columbus, when on its game, plays some of the most beautiful football in the league, and it is all begun by Federico Higuain. The Argentine genius is playing a bit deeper this year than in the past, content to trigger the three-headed attacking monster of Kei Kamara, Justin Meram, and Ethan Finlay. Kamara's play as the tip of the attacking spear has been dynamic, and (most importantly) he's finished the chances that have fallen his way, as 7 goals in 10 starts attest.
That said, this is a team with a small roster crisis going on. At their best, the Crew (SC!) feature a double pivot of Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani, a truly elite pairing, but Trapp's concussion issues have left the work in the able hands of Swedish destroyer Mohammed Saeid. Saied has played well, but is suspended for this game, meaning the Crew (SC!) will have to turn to Kevan George, who is - shall we say - untested.
Also, their starting right back, Argentine recruit Hernan Grana, left the team two weeks ago for homesickness. This means that, for all their attacking prowess, they'll start a USL kid in midfield, and probably a centerback on the flank where Accam starts his rocket-sled attacks.