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Rivalry Renewed: Chicago Fire vs Columbus Crew MLS Week 18 Preview

The Fire look to continue

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Nicolas Galindo/The Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

These are the games we get up for. When everything is going bad in a season, regardless of sport, beating your rival will always make things a little better. The Cubs always want to beat the Cardinals, the Sox always want to beat the Twins, and the Fire always wants to beat the Crew. This is the team that Frank Klopas beat in 1998 to win the double, after all. And it couldn’t come at a more pivotal time.

The Fire are at a crossroads. July is the month where seasons are made and destroyed in MLS. If they’re not in the playoff picture, and by that, I mean more than 6 points out of a spot, by August First, they don’t have a shot at getting in, despite what the math says. Their time is now, and it starts with beating their rival.

Chicago Fire all-time MLS record vs Columbus Crew: 27W-22D-22L, 94 GF / 107 GA, 103 pts out of 213

Chicago Fire home MLS record vs Columbus Crew: 17W-13D-6L, 54 GF / 41 GA, 64 pts out of 108

Previously on…

While only five points ahead of the Fire in the standings, Columbus still feels more stable than the Fire. They’ve won two of their last five games, and haven’t lost since the restart on June 18th. They’re coming off a 2-1 win over Toronto, and have only given up 2 goals in their last two games. Former Fire player Jalil Anibaba is on the Crew’s roster, but He’s only played 86 minutes this season.

Their danger players are Lucas Zelarayan who leads the team in goals, and Derick Ettienne, who leads them in assists. Darlington Nagbe has played better this season than the last as he makes a late attempt to get on the plane to Qutar, as long a shot as that may be.

Suggested Lineup

First, the good news. The only people on the Availability Report as of this writing are ling term injury recipients Wyatt Omsberg and Kendall Burkes. While that doesn’t help central defense depth all that much, It does return depth to the left-back position, so Miguel Navarro comes back into the lineup. I also have Jhan Espinoza starting at right back to give Boris Sekulic a bit of a break. His play the last few games has been a bit concerning and he should probably get a game off in a 3 game week.

The same can be said about Fede Navarro in the midfield. He’s played just about every minute since the restart because Mauricio Pineda was placed in the health and safety protocol. It’s time to give him a rest and get Mo some minutes.

As for up top, Kacper Przybylko just hasn’t been getting the job done. Despite playing well generally, He’s not putting the ball into the Auld Onion Bag. It may be time to look elsewhere for goals, and Jhan Duran has been an explosion of positive movement going forward. Brian Gutierrez has also been phenomenal and even scored his first MLS goal last week. He should play for at least an hour.

Keys To The Match

Get In Behind: Like all teams that play a 3-5-2, there will be space in behind the wingbacks. Unlike earlier in the season, the Fire now have players who can go over the top in Mueller and Torres. They need to exploit that space by making quick 1-2’s on the wing through the midfield, something where they continue to have success against back fours already, and play a little dump and chase— push balls into the corner space and beat the defenders to them.

This also means that the striker, Przybylko or otherwise, is going to have to be ready to receive crosses and the far-sided winger is going to need to make runs into the back post to follow up. The Fire have had problems making back post runs for close to a decade and that has to change. These are things good teams do and the Fire have to start doing them.

Focus: The thing that’s been killing the Fire of late is mental errors. While the obvious stuff like the dumb yellows for delay-of-game has largely gone away, they’re back to losing it during the run of play. From losing track of runners to not getting back on defense, it’s been a tough watch the last few weeks. The Fire need to tighten up their concentration and not let the bad run continue to snowball into an unsalvageable place.

How To Watch

Time: 7:00

Television: WGN-TV

Streaming: CF97 Live/Chicago Fire App

Final Thoughts

The Fire are clearly better than their record but have yet to solve this puzzle, and they're running out of time.

2-1 Fire on a gut feeling.