I give up.
I concede to you Major League Soccer. Between being beaten down mentally by the pandemic and the fun I’ve had watching baseball since it’s been back, I am all in on the return of the regular season. I know that on some level, this makes me a weak person, but frankly I don’t care anymore. I need the Fire. I need a constant in my life again that isn’t discord calls with my friends and video games.
Writing about the Fire gives me a sense of purpose that I’ve taken for granted. These last few months without them (the two weeks of the tournament not withstanding) I’ve been lost without the weakly grind of podcast-preview-analysis. I’m sure there’s been all kinds of unfulfilled holes in all our lives since the pandemic hit in late February and early March. This one is mine.
All of that being said, Thursday is going to be a tough one. Columbus were one of the favorites to win the MLS is Back tournament and for good reason. They’re quick and decisive with the ball and smothering without it. They can casually dominate inferior opposition with ease and make it look like you don’t belong in the league. The Fire are going to need every bit of everything to get a result in Ohio Thursday night. But honestly, win or lose, I’m just glad MLS is back, for real this time. I’m glad I have a purpose again.
Chicago Fire all-time MLS record vs Columbus Crew: 26W-21D-19L (1-0 in shootouts), 91 GF / 98 GA, 99 pts out of 195
Chicago Fire away MLS record vs Columbus Crew: 10-9D-13L (1-0 in shootouts), 40 GF / 59 GA, 39 pts out of 96
The Crew had a great run in the MLS is Back tournament, winning all three of their group games including a 4-0 win over in-state rivals FC Cincinnati. Minnesota United eventually knocked them out in penalties.
This is far from my personal lineup ideal, but I think it’s the most likely way the Men in Red (Navy?) line up. Even if whatever happened between Wicky and Djordje Mihailovic has been pushed under the bridge, I still don’t see him getting the nod. Unfortunately, with Wicky ruling out the return of Johan Kappelhof there’s still a hole at CDM that needs to be filled, which means Gastón Giménez is going to be playing further back than I would like. Fabian Herbers will probably get the start next to Medrán, but I’m leaving Aliseda in the graphic to try and will that into existence.
Keys To The Match
The Fire’s biggest bug-a-boo in the MLS is Back tournament was the same thing it’s been for a long time; lapses in concentration and other small mistakes are killing the club. Whether its losing track of a mark or keeping a player onside, the Fire will have at least one or two of these happen per half and have it lead to disastrous results. Darlington Nagbe and Gyasi Zardes are not guys with witch you can fool around. All it takes is a second, and they’re behind the backline with the ball in the net. The Fire are going to need 90 minutes of full concentration and discipline to win against Columbus.
Have Patience: Columbus is an extremely dangerous team, not just because of their offensive potential, but because of their rock-solid defense. They only gave up one goal in the entire tournament, and that one was off of a set-piece.
Because of this, scoring opportunities are going to be few and far between. The Fire need to pick their spots wisely. If they see an opening, their creative players should take the chance, but otherwise, they need to keep calm, keep possession, and wait for the opportunities to come to them. This means not trying to force through balls or play balls in over the top, two things this team loves to do. They need to control those impulses.
Play With Energy: This one is the simplest and most important of my keys to the game. Play with heart and energy for 90 minutes. They’ve had multiple weeks to relax and assess what went wrong in the tournament, and now is the time to put it all together and show us that they can compete
How To Watch
Television: WGN (Local Only)
It’s unfortunate that the Crew are going to be the Fire’s first game back. Without Kappelhof back to bring balance to the backline, This might be a tough watch. 3-1 Crew.