As far as Fire rivalries go, this is the biggest according to Fire Confidential readers. You voted the Crew as the club's biggest rival by a wide margin. Columbus drew 39% of the votes easily outdistancing the New England Revolution who tallied 22%. The match will be televised for the first time by the local NBC affiliate, Channel 5 and new viewers will surely be greeted by the sound of over 600 Fire Supporters invading the first soccer specific stadium built for MLS.
It's a big game for the Fire given the fact that they have failed to win back to back games this season and they currently sit only three points ahead of Columbus in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Robert Warzycha's club, to their credit has punched above their weight for much of the last one and half seasons. They were a playoff competitor in 2011 after jettisoning much of their veteran core and not particularly playing an attractive caliber of soccer with a young and inexperienced squad. This season Warzycha has had to deal with injuries to stalwarts Chad Marshall and William Hesmer but they seem to be in the thick of the battle in the East again.
Andy Gruenebaum has stepped in capably for Hesmer and their backline has been serviceable. Warzycha rotated some players in their 2-0 shocker win over Seattle on Wednesday night with an eye towards this match so I'd expect the first choice selection from left to right of Nemanja Vukovic, Josh Williams, Eric Gehrig, and Sebastian Miranda to start this one. Carlos Mendes started in place of Gehrig in Seattle.
Their midfield doesn't boast many big names either particularly with 2012 addition Milovan Mirosevic out with an ankle injury. Mirosevic was expected to be the coordinator of their attack from a central position but Cole Grossman is expected to make his second MLS start in his absence. Tony Tchani is currently the top choice at the holding spot but Dilly Duka started in his place on Wednesday night. Another second time starter will probably get the call at right mid. Rookie Kevan George started in place of the injured Danny O'Rourke against the Sounders. Veteran Eddie Gaven (2 goals) will get the nod on the opposite side.
Justin Meram (3 goals) and Olman Vargas are the front runners. Vargas, another off season addition was rested on Wednesday with anticipation of this match.
Frank Klopas will likely play as many of his regular eleven as he can with the option of using some of his bench players against the Michigan Bucks in USOC play on Tuesday night. Sean Johnson, Gonzalo Segares, Austin Berry, Jalil Anibaba, and Dan Gargan will all probably get the call again.
The usual midfield five will probably be back together in the starting line up since Pavel Pardo only saw 24 minutes as a substitute against FC Dallas due to schedule congestion.
Dominic Oduro appears to be okay after leaving in the 60th minute for the second consecutive match. Oduro tweaked a hamstring in Portland but Klopas called the injury minor and stated that the club was just being cautious with Oduro. Orr Barouch came into the match against Dallas late and played well. He may be a good option in this match since he may be more suited for the type of game Columbus likes to play. Chris Rolfe will travel with the club and could be available in a substitution role if his ankle is feeling good enough to go.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: DF Cory Gibbs (R knee meniscus repair); MF Steven Kinney (R Achilles tendinitis); DF Arne Friedrich (R hamstring strain); QUESTIONABLE: FW Chris Rolfe (L ankle sprain)
COLUMBUS CREW -- OUT: FW Tommy Heinemann (L knee surgery); GK William Hesmer (R hip surgery); FW Aaron Schoenfeld (R plantar fascia rupture); DF Chad Marshall (concussion); MF Kirk Urso (R adductor tendonitis); DOUBTFUL: FW Ben Speas (sports hernia rehab); DF Rich Balchan (sports hernia rehab); MF Milovan Mirosevic (L adductor strain); QUESTIONABLE: FW Ethan Finlay (concussion); PROBABLE: MF Danny O'Rourke (L ankle sprain)
Columbus is 2-2-1 at home and the Fire are 2-2-1 on the road. The Fire are a more talented squad than Columbus but a draw would probably be a good result here.
Fire 1 Crew 1
The Rest of the League
LA 1 HOU 2
PHL 0 TFC 1 (first league win for Winter)
NE 1 DC 2
FCD 0 RSL 2
MTL 1 COL 1
VANC 1 PORT 1
SEA 2 CHV 1
SJ 1 SKC 2