This match no longer carries the playoff implications that Fire supporters were hoping for but it's still a chance to show the league, fans, and most importantly themselves that this team could be one to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference come 2012. The Columbus Crew, like the Fire went through an offseason of change and dumped most of their veteran talent in favor of youngsters but showed enough early on to claim a place near the top of the East. They've managed to surpass the expectations of many and are still in the hunt to finish as the number one seed in the conference.
Robert Warzycha has done a commendable job this season and earned a contract extension for his efforts. His lineup should include most of the same starters that hammered New England 3-0 last weekend. William Hesmer in goal with Shaun Francis, Julius James, Chad Marshall, and Sebastian Miranda from left to right in the back are the defenders. Josh Gardner and Rich Balchan have also filled in at left back.
Without Robbie Rogers, who has missed time due to a hamstring injury the Crew midfield has been set over the last few matches with Danny O'Rourke in the holding spot, Eddie Gaven on the right, Dilly Duka on the left, and Emmanuel Ekpo in the attacking central position. O'Rourke, however is listed as questionable for this match. Their top threat, Andres Mendoza has accumulated 13 goals after a bit of a rocky start while his strike partner Emilio Renteria has chipped in with 7. The much traveled Jeff Cunningham and Tommy Heinemann are usually the first subs off the bench if offense is needed.
With a sell out crowd on hand and a chance to finish the season at the .500 mark Frank Klopas seems certain to go with a first choice line up. Dan Gargan and Cory Gibbs are available after serving one game suspensions so they should be back in the first eleven with Jalil Anibaba and Gonzalo Segares. Sean Johnson will also look to finish the year out strong and hopefully earn another call back into the US national team camp.
Pavel Pardo is also back from a red card suspension and will slot back into the holding role with Marco Pappa and Logan Pause as the outside midfielders. Sebastian Grazzini has been hampered by recurring hamstring problems and could miss this match. If he can't go expect Baggio Husidic or Daniel Paladini to attempt to fill the huge void. I like the Patrick Nyarko/Dominic Oduro match up against this Crew back line.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: MF Gabriel Ferrari (L knee ACL reconstruction); DF Steven Kinney (sports hernia); DOUBTFUL: MF Michael Videira (L groin strain); QUESTIONABLE: MF Sebastian Grazzini (L hamstring strain)
COLUMBUS CREW -- DOUBTFUL: MF Tony Tchani (R knee surgery); QUESTIONABLE: MF Danny O'Rourke (L knee tightness); PROBABLE: DF Rich Balchan (abdominal strain); MF Robbie Rogers (R hamstring strain
Not sure if I'm alone on this but I believe the Fire, as they are set up right now are better than a handful of teams that will be participating in post season play. I think the Crew is one of the teams in that handful.
Fire 2 Crew 0
End of Season Awards
Dominic Oduro was named Team Most Valuable Player and Cory Gibbs earned Defender of the Year.
Section 8 Chicago is also conducting their annual Supporter's Player of the Year fan poll.