David Accam is the Fire's offensive spark. A creator of chaos. A constant threat who can make something out of nothing with pure speed.
Accam was not in this game and either was the Fire's offensive spark. The result was a 0-0 draw against Columbus as both teams remained winless on the season.
The team announced shortly before the match that Accam would miss the game and his scheduled call-up to the Ghana national team because of a knee sprain. The good news is the injury is not expected to be serious and Accam should be ready for the April 2 game against Philadelphia.
The bad news is it appears the Fire is a bit lost without him in the lineup.
Without Accam in the lineup, the Fire played their most uninspired half of soccer on the year. While they pressured and possessed for the first 10 minutes of the game, nothing much came of it. The team did rack up six corner kicks in that 10-minute span, but those chances were wasted as Arturo Alvarez did not provide great service and no one could get on the end of any delivery.
Perhaps the best chance in the first half came when Gilberto pressured high in the fourth minute and caused a turnover near the top of the box. While he almost gathered the ball, the Crew quickly regrouped and dispossessed the Brazilian before he could get a shot off.
Kennedy Igboananike also drew a foul in a dangerous area to the right of the box in the 15th minute. Alvarez played a short ball to John Goossens who softly chipped a shot into the arms of Steve Clark.
The Crew started to take control of possession after that, spending plenty of time in the final third passing the ball around looking for an opening that never came. The three center backs in the 3-5-2 played their most composed and connected soccer of the season. Jonathan Campbell, Joao Meira and Johan Kappelhof all stepped up at different points to intercept potentially dangerous passes or deflect would-be shots on target.
Keeping the ball off Kei Kamara's head is no easy task and all three played an important role in suffocating the prolific goal scorer. Meira and Kappelhof even took a turn at dribbling up the field in an attempt to create some offense, though nothing came of it.
The 3-5-2 also allowed the outside backs to get up field. Rodrigo Ramos had a few promising moments, attempting a give-and-go with Alvarez and generally getting up the field. Brandon Vincent had a tougher time, getting beat by Ethan Finlay on a couple occasions including one that led to a foul and free kick in a dangerous area.
In an effort to jumpstart the offense in the second half, Paunovic played with the team shape and personnel. The 3-5-2 switched to a 3-4-1-2 late in the first half but it was the introduction of Michael Stephens for Goossens to start the second that led the shape to take hold.
The second half was more eventful and the Fire came out hot. An Igboananike interception sprung a break that led to a corner kick, the first since the opening minutes of the game. Despite keeping pressure on early, Columbus did not break and regained the kind of possession they enjoyed for the majority of the first half.
Justin Meram finally got a shot on target in the 53rd minute, but Lampson easily handled it. About four minutes later, a dangerous cross from Harrison Afful, who is active in the attack all game, nearly found Kamara but it was well defended by Meira.
The Fire reversed pressure momentarily in the 60th minute when Stephens won the ball in his own end and passed to Alvarez on the break. Alvarez's pass missed Igboananike, but Ramos, who was also offensively active all game, took a crack that was just off frame.
Paunovic once again tweaked the shape, bringing in Nick LaBrocca for Igboananike. Paunovic said during his sideline interview that LaBrocca was brought on to control possession and move the shape to a diamond, with Alvarez and Polster serving as the points.
Shortly after the substitution, the Fire nearly struck on the break again. Vincent and Alvarez teamed up to force a turnover before Alvarez passed to Gilberto at the top of the box. Gilberto got a low shot off, forcing a diving save from Clark.
The action picked up in the last 20 minutes, with Finlay nearly scoring a goal if not for an athletic diving save from Lampson, his biggest test of the match. The Fire enjoyed a series of corner kicks around the 80th minute, but it was Ramos that produced the best chance.
Ramos made an unmarked run into the box, looking to get on the end of a chip service. Cedric Mabwati scrambled to recover, running right into the Brazilian in the box. Ramos went down, but the ref waved him up and play continued to the protests of the crowd. With three minutes of stoppage time, both teams took their turn in the other's end, but nothing too threatening was produced.
It was a frustrating day without Accam, but the team grew into the attack as the match progressed. Still, one point out of two home games is not the start fans wanted.
As always, check back for follow-up analysis and post-game reactions.