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We Meet In Woe: Chicago Fire v Columbus Crew, MLS game 4 preview

Increasingly desperate, increasingly beat-up Men in Red will need to dig deep against a strong Crew side

MLS: Chicago Fire at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

How crappy is it that this league has manufactured a situation where I cannot help but feel common cause and no small bit of sorrow for supporters of the godforsaken Columbus Crew? SO CRAPPY. Anyway.

History

Time was, the Fire had much the better of their banana-colored cousins from Cowtown - but this is the time that is, not that was: The Crew have dominated the rivalry since 2012, winning six and drawing five of the 12 matchups. The lone Fire win in that stretch was almost exactly a year ago, when the Men in Red ground out a 1-0 win in Bridgeview against a Columbus side weakened by the absence of talismanic playmaker Federico Higuain.

It’s also true that, all else being equal, suffering tends to elicit sympathy, and the supporters of this MLS beta-test club* do not deserve one second of the bullshit their shitweasel douchebrah of an owner* has pulled - incoherent or nonexistent media outreach, submarining or outright underreporting attendance, sticking it to their most loyal fans, all in a coordinated effort to make what was clearly always the plan - moving MLS Franchise Numero Uno from Columbus, Ohio** to Austin, Texas** - palatable, somehow, to an imaginary non-Columbus MLS fan.

We here at Hot Time subscribe to the idea that a soccer club is more than the business framework which pays its bills. If anything, the travails of the Crew have brought these ideas into sharper focus. The idea that a future MLS will not include a fucking yellow team from Ohio’s manure-stinky capitol is a massive loss of authenticity, passion and history for a league desperately in need of all three.

CF97 all-time MLS record vs. Columbus: 25-18-18, 86 GF / 91 GA, 93 pts of 183

CF97 home MLS record vs. Columbus: 15-10-6, 47 GF / 36 GA, 55 pts of 93

Recently

There’s an odd feeling around the Gregg Berhalter-led Crew that, whatever their most recent results, they’re going to be one of the better teams in the league when all is said and done. Whether it’s Berhalter’s implacable public demeanor, the team’s tactical and roster continuity, or the fact that no one’s paying enough attention for any drama to get traction, that Yellow Team burble away, just below the very top teams in the league but capable of truly inspirational football. Sir Gregg the Earnest’s teams play patient passing football, forcing opponents to defend the whole width of the field for long attacking sequences. Look upon the DC United highlights, ye mighty, and despair.

Yet the Crew are certainly not unbeatable, as last week’s 2-1 home loss to Vancouver was something of a how-to guide for our Fire, so desperately short of full strength. All it took was unstoppable force of nature Kei Kamara taking it up a notch - apparently by calling on D’Hoffran to go full Vengeance Demon on the Crew - for it to happen. So, super likely tonight.

Probable Starters

Scouting This Game

Staying healthy is a separate skill: The single biggest factor in Chicago’s rough start hasn’t been N-Rod’s terrible offseason - it’s been a wave of injuries to key players. I mean

… that’s sad. How much better does this team look with Polster, De Leeuw, Solignac and Mihalovic available? If Dax McCarty or Schweinsteiger go down, we could be looking at our third Wooden Spoon in four years, gang.

Which shape for the Fire?: The Fire’s opening alignment will tell us a bit about how they plan to do business tonight. If Bastian Schweinsteiger starts in the center of defense, the Men in Red will be focused on keeping a clean sheet, trying to create chances on the break. If Basti is in midfield, expect to see almost mirror-image team shapes as each will attempt to spread the field to create possession angles out of a shape with a four-man backline.

Stand with on Higuain: There’s not a lot of guys in MLS who warrant man-marking - Federico Higuain is definitely one of them. The prototypical ‘straw that stirs the drink’ player, Higuain’s technical quality and imagination are world class. If the Argentine genius is allowed to get clean touches and establish a rhythm, the Fire will have a long night.

Trap Trapp: If Higuain is the engine of the Crew, then Trapp is, what, its coaling stations? If left unperturbed at the back of the Columbus midfield, Trapp’s expansive passing range is the pivot around which the Crew build sustained possession. The Crew Academy product single-handedly exhausts opposing defenses by simply and cleanly switching the ball from one flank to the other. Given the relative inexperience the Men in Red will deploy on the flanks, keeping Trapp uncomfortable on the ball and out of that secure timekeeper mode will do a lot to breaking up the game and creating a winnable scenario for our Fire.

Ugly wins are still wins: Let’s face it - this Fire roster, with this injury list and this coaching staff, aren’t going to out-pretty Columbus. We’re not going to win 3-1 with 65 percent possession while olés ring out through the stadium. It may feel a bit galling to admit, but Chicago’s best chance to take all the points today is to embrace a bit of anti-football - use fouls to break up rhythm and instill doubt, go hard on restarts, and break like mad if they turn it over.

Don’t look down: Should the Fire lose this game, they’ll have one (1) point from the first four matches, three of which were at home. It’s hard to think on that without feeling a little pulse of anxiety. So our Men in Red have to perform the difficult task of putting that knowledge just out of sight, of somehow using it for motivation. Yes, it’s a long season, and I’m here to tell you that if you’re saying that after the performances we’ve witnessed to this point, than you clearly have no idea just how long a season can truly be. 2018 is already perilously close to collapsing in on itself. No pressure, guys!

How to Watch

As with most Chicago Fire matches this season, there will be no traditional broadcast television for this match. However, it will streamed free throughout North America through MLS Live. Registration is free. Starting next week, Fire matches migrate to ESPN+, a subscription service.


*We have so much in common! <snif>

**A mid-sized American city which is growing aggressively thanks to tech-sector cross-investment from the public university therein.