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The Midwest Derby: Columbus Crew vs Chicago Fire, MLS Week 29 Preview

This is my favorite game of the season.

MLS - Columbus Crew vs Chicago Fire - August 4, 2007

It’s time for a very special fixture.

For the 36th time in history, the Chicago Fire will travel to Columbus, Ohio to take on the Crew in the 73rd edition of The Midwest Derby. The Chicago Fire will play the Columbus Crew more times than any other MLS team forever, and that means something.

For 25 years, this game has had more twists and turns than any other. That Frank Klopas goal in the Open Cup Final? That was against the Crew. The 11 AM Cup upset after a torrential rainstorm? The Crew.

I don’t know if this game emotionally resonates with the players or even other fans as it does to me. To me, this is the game you have to win. This is Bears vs Packers or Cubs vs Cardinals. Above all else. Beat the Columbus Crew.

Chicago Fire all-time MLS record vs Columbus Crew: 27W-22D-23L, 96 GF / 110 GA, 103 pts out of 213

Chicago Fire away MLS record vs Columbus Crew: 10 W-9D-16L, 40 GF / 66 GA, 39 pts out of 105

Previously on…

The Crew have been rolling along since their 3-2 comeback against the Fire. In that time, they’re 3-5-1 and their only loss was to Montreal. The addition of Cucho Hernandez has paid off in spades, as since he joined the team, he’s scored 8 goals in just 11 games, putting him at the top of the Crew golden boot race. With him there, the Crew looks like they could do some real damage in the playoffs.

Suggested Lineup

This is the best lineup we can hope for coming into the game against Columbus. As we saw against the Revs, the only way the Fire were able to create scoring chances was through a tremendous individual effort from Jhon Duran. Andre Reynolds is not a winger, but a fullback, and Brian Gutierrez was effectively nullified by New England’s midfielders. If Shaqiri is healthy enough to go more than 45 minutes, he should start. The natural grass field should help.

Keys To The Match

Stay Compact: Cucho Hernandez changes everything about how the Columbus Crew plays, as was evident when he came on in his debut against the Fire. The Fire and their top 10 goals against record could be the team to figure out how to neutralize him.

To do that, they first have to commit themselves to the fundamentals of defending. They need to clog the midfield and not let Columbus string passes together. They need to talk with each other and shift accordingly when the ball eventually goes wide. And they need to track runners and make sure no one loses their marks off the ball. If they do these things, they should stay in the game for all 90 minutes.

Up The Tempo: The biggest problem with the Frie attack for a while now is that it’s too damn slow. When they get possession and get across the line into their opponent's half, they look indecisive. They don’t know where to pass or what runs to do or anything. They eventually knock the ball around the perimeter at a sedate pace, getting nothing done except empy numbers before making a low percentage pass to force some offense. Sometimes that works, but more often than not they end up giving the ball away.

They have to play faster. Columbus is going to give you openings in attack but they won’t last a long time. They have to be ready to recognize those opportunities as they happen and capitalize on them. Their runs have to be sharp and their passes have to be on time. It’s the only way they’ll get the upper hand in the game, and the only way they’ll have a chance at winning.

How To Watch

Time: 4:30 PM

Television: WGN-TV

Streaming: CF97 Live/Chicago Fire app

Final Thoughts

This is another one of those tough but doable games. But it’s probably the most difficult game left on the schedule. The Fire can’t slip up this time. They need to basically win out. But I don’t have a lot of confidence that they can. On the other hand, they better win this game.