Fire vs. Columbus Crew: Match Preview

Brian Carroll, Marco Pappa, Gino Padula

With only five regular season games left in their season, every remaining match is critical for the Chicago Fire. Some matches, however, are more important than others and this Sunday's battle at Toyota Park against the defending champion Columbus Crew (2 p.m. on My50/Telefutura) certainly fits that description.

The first place Crew and the second place Fire have been fighting each other all season for the Eastern Conference's top spot and this weekend's game could very well decide who enters the MLS playoffs - which begin on October 29th - as the East's top seed. A win at home would vault the Fire into a first place tie with the Crew, who are leading MLS with 42 points.

"It's a very big game," said Fire goalie Jon Busch. "We've been chasing them for most of the season and we're right there in a good spot... it'll be a good test for us."
The Fire and the Crew have already met twice on the year, with both matches ending in ties. The first match between the two sides saw the Fire steal a point with two late goals in Columbus on April 25th while the teams July 11th game in Bridgeview was more of a defensive battle, ending scoreless.

"They're a good team in good form right now," Fire Head Coach Denis Hamlett said of the Crew. "They can get you from different sides, the right the left... and then set pieces [too.] They're a well balanced team and we have to make sure we have to bring our best game because that's what it's going to take."

So, with that said, here's a deeper look into a couple of key factors that could go a long way in determining the outcome of Sunday's match.

**Injuries -**

Here's what the injury picture is looking like for Sunday afternoon...

The Fire -

Out: Daniel Woolard (high ankle sprain), Tim Ward (metatarsal fracture)

Doubtful: Gonzalo Segares (MCL sprain)

Probable: John Thorrington (quadriceps strain)

The Crew -

Out: GK Andy Gruenebaum, DEF Chad Marshall

Which team is hurt more by the injuries? In my opinion, it has to be the Fire. Granted, Chad Marshall is a very important part of the Crew backline, but the Fire could very well be without three starters for Sunday's match and - given how evenly these teams matchup at full strength - that statistic is crucial.

It is also worth noting that both the Fire's Brian McBride and the Crew's Guillermo Barros Schelotto (MLS's reigning MVP) recently returned from injuries that kept them out for over a month each. If either of these players returns to their early season form on Sunday, watch out.

**Stopping the Crew's Wingers -**

Crew midfielders Eddie Gaven and Robbie Rogers have wreaked havoc on the flanks all season long and if the Fire is to win on Sunday afternoon, they must limit the impact of the Crew's two wingers.

"We have to make sure that our outside backs come ready," said Fire Head Coach Denis Hamlett. "If you limit [Gaven's and Rogers's] ability to run at you in open space it gives you an advantage but if the game becomes open then they have freedom and they can do some harm. So it's got to be a balance. We have to be good with the ball."

The Fire's starting fullbacks - likely Mike Banner and Dasan Robinson - will shoulder most of the load when it comes to defending Gaven and Rogers and honestly that's a questionable matchup for the Fire. Dasan didn't look so great against Real Salt Lake's Fabian Espindola last Saturday night (especially in the second half...) and Mike Banner - despite his recent success in the role - isn't a true defender and it is unknown how he'll deal with the trickery of Gaven and Rogers. Hopefully the two will have a standout game for the Fire, because if the team can take Gaven and Rogers out of the match their task will be made a whole lot easier.

And now, finally, it's time for...

**The Prediction -**

I'll go out on a limb here and say the Fire and Crew will tie for the 5th time in the last two years on Sunday. It'll be a very close match that will have some late drama before finishing with a score of 1-1. Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Alejandro Moreno will score the goals.

Forza Rosso was the winner in last week's prediction contest, as he correctly called the Fire's 1-1 tie with Real Salt Lake. Let's see if Rosso can make it two in a row...

And now some links...

[Fire vs. Crew Match Recap (April 25th)](http://chicago.fire.mlsnet.com/news/team_news.jsp?ymd=20090425&content_id=244042&vkey=news_chf&fext=.jsp&team=t100)

[Fire vs. Crew Match Preview (July 11th)](http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/chicago-fire-confidential/2009/07/fire-vs-columbus-crew-match-preview.html)

[Fire vs. Crew Match Recap (July 11th)](http://chicago.fire.mlsnet.com/news/team_news.jsp?ymd=20090711&content_id=5829446&vkey=news_chf&fext=.jsp&team=t100)

Comments

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  • This game is hard to call but my gut tells me the Fire will lose 2-1 goal scorer Pappa.

  • The Fire have been so inconsistent as of late, I would hate to say they are going to lose, but maybe they will win because at the moment I feel less confidence in them than I have had all year. The last time I had a lot of confidence in them heading into a game, was the LA Galaxy game, and that, they looked no better than the Red Bulls, so I still have that game fresh in my memory.

    Which Fire team will show up? Is the only question worth asking at the moment for me.

  • I think the injuries actually hrt COlumbus worse. Not only has Marshall marked McBride out of the game but he's KILLED us on set pieces the last two seasons.

    I predict a Supporter's Shield killing, disappointing, not living up to the hype Nil-Nil draw.

    But c'mon Fire prove me wrong and beat those SOBs!!!

  • I can't wait to see what the game plan that DH talked about last week looked like. Taking into accounting the home form and DH's previous "game plans" we'll probably end up with a disappointing 1-1 draw.

  • Sadly, I don't see the Fire cracking the Crew defense so 0-0 is our best bet. I think GBS is going to something magical to start the second half and we lose 1-0.

  • Given those winger/outside defensive matchups... *shudder* I see the final being 2-1 Columbus.

    The fire score early and rest on their laurels. The Crew comes back in the second half to tie it 1-1. Hamlett subs in a midfielder for a forward to bunker for the tie. As usual when this happens the Fire can't defend against a constant assault and give up a late game winner to the Yellow F*cking Team...

    But I hope to God I'm wrong.

  • 2-0 Columbus. You read it here first.

  • No one else has taken a 2-2 draw, so I'll go with that.

  • 3-1 Columbus, Fire goal by Blanco is late in the game, meaningless

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