When we last left off, things for the Chicago Fire were moving quickly toward disaster. A reprive win over Inter Miami was countered swiftly by a kick-in-the-pants loss to Montreal CF in the game before the break. Once again, the Men in (soon to be again Red) were let down by inefficiency in front of goal and a communications breakdown on defense. However, there were some things to be positive about. Ignacio Aliseda played 30 minutes and looked like he hadn’t missed a step. His first touch forced a free kick in a dangerous area and he looked like he could create whatever he wanted down the left. Offor came in late and got some shots off, and the defense played acceptably until the breakdown.
The Nations League break is an opportunity for the club to take a deep breath and start the season over again. A win against Columbus and then Cincinnati and the Fire are right back in the playoff conversation. The club should treat this as a new beginning. There’s still time this year to start over and come good.
And with this new beginning, comes the end of an era. This game marks the last game at MAPFRE/ Columbus Crew Stadium. The first Soccer Specific Stadium has a lot of memories for me. My first and only Section 8 On Tour was a bus ride to Columbus and it was one of the most fun things I ever did. I remember epic games in this place and the intensity of the Crew/Fire rivalry captured my imagination as a child. I’m going to miss this place, and I’m also going to miss making fun of it.
Chicago Fire all-time MLS record vs Columbus Crew: 26W-22D-20L (0-3-0 in OT 1-0 in Shootouts), 93 GF / 103 GA, 100 pts out of 204
Chicago Fire away MLS record vs Columbus Crew: 10W-9D-14L (0-1-0 in OT), 40GF / 52 GA, 39 pts out of 99
It goes without saying that Columbus is good, but they did stumble a bit at the beginning of the season. The Champions League fixture congestion had them drop points against Minnesota United and TFC early. But they’ve rallied back to win two of their last three before the break. A 2-1 win over New York City FC and a victory over Toronto FC by the same scoreline has Columbus back in the playoff positions with a winning record of 3-2-2.
Let’s get this out of the way early, Francisco Calvo should be benched. His horrible play for the club side finally leaked over into international duty. He looked a shambles against both Honduras in the Nations League third-place game and in the cooldown friendly against the US. He shouldn’t be playing.
As for the rest of the lineup, Gaston Gimenez and Przemyslaw Frankowski are on Copa America and Euro duty respectively, so that allows Mauricio Pineda and Ignacio Aliseda to reestablish their positions in the XI. Pineda especially needs to make the most of this opportunity, as he was left off the preliminary roster for the Gold Cup. If he wants to get back into Gregg Berhalter's radar, he needs to start performing at a higher level. I’ll talk more about the formation in a second.
Keys To The Match
Squeeze the Midfield: The Columbus Crew like to play narrow. When they have the ball, most of their play comes from the central midfielders into Derrick Etienne on the left and Luis Diaz out on the right, but they often squeeze inside the numbers to play in the middle of the park. To combat this on defense, the Fire needs to contest the midfield as much as possible and force the fullbacks to push forward to create width.
This is why when I was doing the lineup, I chose to use a 4-3-3. The 3 CMs can make it difficult for Darlington Nagbe and Artur to operate comfortably and force the action out wide where the Fire’s better defenders are. If done properly, it should also limit Zardes and Zelarayan’s effectiveness and limit the chances you know they’re going to create.
The Crew have a ton of weapons and the Fire need to contain them as best they can.
Score Goals: Part two of the winning formula for the Fire is they have to convert their scoring opportunities. For too long, the Fire have been wasteful in front of goal, and that has to stop. They’re going to get some chances. The nature of the way Columbus plays means that there’s going to be space on the wings for Aliseda and Guti to work. Robert Beric and the two more forward central mids are going to need to crash the net and put the ball on target. And if Beric can’t get it done, Head Coach Raphael Wicky needs to be willing to give him the hook as early as halftime. If everything else is working and Beric isn’t putting them away, You have to go to Offor early and give him a shot.
Rise to the Moment: This game is special. Not only is it the final Midwest Derby in Crew Stadium, but it’s also the final game at Crew Stadium, period. It’s going to be loud and raucous inside, and The Crew are going motivated to end the era on a good note. Embrace being the villain here. Play a little more physical and try to quiet the croud. Embrace the rivalry and when the Nordeke inevitably start chanting “Piss on the Fire” score a goal and celebrate in front of them. Make this rivalry mean something again.
How To Watch
Streaming: CFFC Live/ ESPN+ (out of Market)
I can’t even tell. The Fire could just as soon come back off their break and be playing at their best, and they could just as soon lay an egg. As it’s the last game in Crew Stadium in a historic matchup, I’m going to pick the Fire to win, in a heart over the head decision. 3-2 final score.