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The Real Test: Fire vs Columbus Crew, MLS Week 23 Preview

While a win at home is nice, it might take a lot more to win on the road at Firehouse East

MLS: New England Revolution at Chicago Fire
Johan Kappelhof runs to grab his laptop as Joao Meira tells Luis Solignac the elusive Toyota Park Wi-Fi password.
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

It was business as usual once again at home against New England. If you hadn’t been reading these previews you might’ve been a bit scared going into that game, but you, dear reader, know better. The real test is right next door on the road. With Patrick Doody staking his claim at left back with a three assist game and Juninho breaking out with his first goal of the season, we should definitely be celebrating that victory. But knowing our record at home and on the road, this is the real game that will show whether we’re actually getting back on the same page. It’s easy to feel powerful in your own castle, but what happens when you become the visitor?

Last we saw Columbus Crew, we were just getting started with Bastian Schweinsteiger and narrowly won off of an early strike from Nemanja Nikolic. Since then a lot has changed for both teams. We know what happened on our end, but on Columbus’ end they’ve made quite a few changes. The biggest was the addition of Kekuta Manneh from the Vancouver Whitecaps and the recent departure of Ethan Finlay to Minnesota. In recent games Finlay hasn’t made much of an impact, but Manneh has done fairly well this season fitting into his new spot off to the side of Ola Kamara. Unfortunately, this isn’t quite enough to keep them safe as they’re very much in contention for a playoff spot, currently 6th in the East. Here’s some clips:

Vs. Philly 7/22

Vs Philly 7/26

Vs. San Jose 8/5

Three Keys

Game Recognize Game

The rest of the league has taken notice of the Fire’s new style of play, building out of the back and working with three very capable forwards with strong passing backing it up in the central midfield. Instead of finding ways to beat it, the world does what the world does and is trying to imitate it. Case in point, Columbus Crew. Their top three includes a converted attacking midfielder, a target striker in the middle, and a possible target striker who instead plays on the wing. We should be able to contain this sort of attack solely because Artur and Will Trapp aren’t Dax and Basti.

The Perks of Playing Three Center Backs

Columbus plays with three in the back with two wingbacks out wide, allowing them three CBs to be completely free to cover players in their own third. This gives an advantage to be able to use your full backs for the attack while having suitable back up behind them. The trick to beating them is that it looks like those three CBs like to huddle inside the box. With Juninho finally sparking up, expect him to possibly have a key role in that sort of play with powerful shots from outside the box.

What Depth Can Do For You!

As we saw with Doody stepping right into Vincent’s role on the left side of the defense, it’s important to have good depth on the team. That’s why I’m just taking some time to acknowledge the Fire’s capture of Christian Dean this week. Our defensive depth has been an issue for years and this young CB will help with that sort of thing. And with Doody performing so well, I wonder what other hidden gems there may be in our roster waiting for their chance. Just something to think about.

Projected Lineups

Chicago Fire

Columbus Crew

How To Watch

Kickoff: Saturday August 12th, 7:30PM EDT/6:30PM CDT

TV/Streaming: CSN-Chicago, MLS Live

So are the Fire going to come back to their Supporter’s Shield leading form? Or are we doomed to only take our victories at home?