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In Enemy Territory: Three Questions with Massive Report

The Fire will face the Crew at 4:30 PM today.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Chicago Fire Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of this afternoon’s Eastern Conference clash between the Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew, we spoke with the Massive Report’s Thomas Costello to learn a little bit more about what we can expect from the opposition in this crucial match.

1. Since their previous meeting with the Fire, the Crew have embarked on a strong run and now find themselves above the playoff line. What’s been behind that stretch in the last couple of months?

MR: The stretch of late has been a little bit of a mixed bag. Columbus is picking up points but have also been susceptible to letting teams back into matches. Columbus has had leads in four of the last nine since these two played where they ended up losing it, seeing nine points drop.

In their last two, though, the intensity has increased because their games in hand that they have had for seemingly a month are going away.

Offensively it’s been a lot of Cucho Hernández. Since his debut against Chicago, he’s scored eight goals and added one assist, showing that he’s been worth the price.

2. With their new additions, including Cucho Hernández, have the Crew shown that they can be an MLS Cup contender again this season after a poor year in 2021?

MR: A lot of Crew fans may disagree with me, but I think they could challenge for an MLS Cup if they’re at their best. I think Columbus was their best in the second half against the Fire in July, but it isn’t something supporters see match in and match out.

The season is a grind of 34+ matches across competitions. If the last seven matches for the Crew get this team focusing on the playoffs and playing their best, they could surprise some people.

Head coach Caleb Porter calls every match a cup tie at this point. They aren’t looking for draws.

3. The Fire have lost a number of players, particularly in the midfield and in central defense, due to injuries in recent weeks. Which Crew players could stand out in this match given the state of the Fire’s spine?

MR: Hernández is the obvious choice, but there’s one big name not likely to play — midfielder Lucas Zelarayán. The Argentinian has hamstring tightness that took him out the day before their midweek match.

With him out, that leaves one less offensive attacker for Columbus, but they responded by going to their 4-3-3, which Chicago played well against in the first half of their first meeting.

Chicago has to worry about the wingers. Luis Díaz has five assists and a goal since Hernández’s debut because Díaz can get in behind just about anyone because of his pace. His decision-making is finally falling into place after three years in black and gold.

Derrick Etienne Jr. is who to watch on the other side. He doesn’t necessarily have the pace of Díaz but creates a tough challenge.

The Chicago Fire will face the Columbus Crew at 4:30 Central Time tonight. It will be aired on WGN and CF97 Live.