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Hunt for the Cup - Round of 16: Chicago Fire vs. Columbus Crew Preview

Two cellar dwellers of the Eastern Conference attempt to turn their seasons around as the Chicago Fire face the Columbus Crew in the Open Cup

Redemption for a nearly lost season is almost upon the Chicago Fire. To achieve it, they’ll have to go through a long-time rival.

The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 begins tonight, with the Fire hoping to down the Crew from Columbus on their way to the quarterfinals. The match begins at 7:30 p.m. tonight and can be streamed for free here:

Opponent:

To say the regular MLS season has not gone their way would be an understatement for both the Fire and the Crew as the two sides keep each other company in the cellar of the Eastern Conference standings. A year after cruising through the conference en route to an MLS Cup appearance, the Crew has seen their fortunes turn with just 16 points in 15 matches. On top of those results, they’ve had to deal with anarchy in their locker room, which involved shipping off MVP-candidate, and man bun enthusiast, Kei Kamara to New England. And let’s not get started on the golden shower inspired jerseys

However, the team has been has been on a bit better run since they traded Kamara on May 12, going 2-1-4 in all competitions. They’re helped by Kamara - Ola Kamara - whose five goals in nine matches has helped to fill the offensive void left by his surname brethren. Like last season, the Fire will still have to pray they can contain the Crew’s speedsters Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram, whose distributions from the side into the box will likely test a Fire defense that has turned into a dumpster fire in recent weeks after giving up six goals in two matches.

But at least the Fire’s, errr, defensive dumpster fire has been a recent phenomena. The Crew’s defense itself has been pedestrian at best this season, with 22 goals allowed that place them tied for 10th in the league. The team’s penchant to push numbers offensively leaves them liable in the back and puts pressure on 32-year-olds Michael Parkhurst and Tyson Wahl to be the rocks of the backfield. Unfortunately for the Crew, the veterans continued appearance in the starting XI are based more on name recognition rather than actual quality this year. While not geriatric, the pairing’s lack of speed and cohesiveness should prove ample opportunities for the Fire’s David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike to run forward.

Both teams will be dealing with absences as Matt Polster is out and Arturo Alvarez, Joey Calistri and Collin Fernandez continue to work through injuries. Columbus will not have Dilly Duka available or Cedric, Sauro or Higuain.

Prediction:

While not as noticeable as the Fire’s road woes, the Crew have yet to win on the road in seven matches this year. The lowlight of that struggle is the 0-0 match against the Fire in March that one wouldn’t wish upon their greatest enemy to rewatch, as both teams meandered around the midfield for 90 minutes and never really seemed interested in the idea of goals, wins or creative football. The Crew is also coming off a home match on Saturday and with another match on Sunday, it will be interesting what head coach Gregg Berhalter does with his starting XI. The Fire has also won all five times the two teams have previously met in the Open Cup, most recently in 2014 in the round of 16.

With all those caveats, I’m going to guess the Fire remain in the hunt of the Open Cup and leave Toyota Park with a 1-0 win.

What are your thoughts and predictions? Leave a comment below?