Our guy Martin Tomszak thinks there could be a bit of action in this match. Here's the latest match preview as the Fire take on Columbus in yet another Friday night match.
What Are They All About? Columbus Crew SC
To say that the Fire’s result in New York was frustrating is an understatement. Chicago blew a two goal lead against NYCFC’s ten men to leave Yankee Stadium with just a point. They are now winless in three matches and face a tough trip to Columbus on Friday night.
Columbus Form Guide (Last 5 Matches): L-W-L-W-W
Previous match: A 0-2 away loss to San Jose.
Formation in the last match: 4-2-3-1, Clark; Francis, Pogatetz, Parkhurst, Jimenez; Tchani, Saeid; Meram, Higuain, Finlay; Kamara
Strengths: While the Fire may be heading into Friday’s match with the edge in overall meetings (24-14-14) history might not matter much on the night. The first and most obvious strength for this Crew side is their home form this season. Columbus Crew SC has played five home matches and has won four of those, with the only exception being a narrow loss to a very good New York Red Bulls side. They’ve won these matches by scoring an impressive thirteen goals while only conceding five. This may prove to be problematic for Chicago considering that the Fire haven’t won on the road yet and have managed just three goals in four away matches.
Fun with Numbers: Columbus’ high goal scoring rate is clearly related to the 88 total shots taken in those five matches, 37 of which were on target. This should be a worrying statistic for the Fire given that in his last three matches Sean Johnson has faced 10 shots on target, 5 of which have found their way to the back of the net. On the opposite side of the spectrum the Crew has scored 10 goals from 25 shots on target in its last three home matches. If you like percentages better, that’s Johnson letting in 50% of the shots taken against him in the last three matches, while Columbus is scoring off of 40% of their shots taken at home. If both of these trends continue, it could be a long night for the Fire.
Putting Names to the Stats: While the Fire cannot seem to get their forwards on the score sheet, the exact opposite is true for Columbus. Kei Kamara is currently the leader in the race for MLS’s golden boot. He has scored seven goals in ten matches, accounting for almost half of his team’s goal total this season. Right foot, left foot, head, inside the box, outside the box, take your pick and Kamara has shown he can do it.
Although Columbus only plays with one “striker”, the 4-2-3-1 allows them to have three attack minded midfielders roaming the field while Tony Tchani and Mohammed Saeid serve as an anchor behind them. Playing along the right wing and often linking up with Kamara is Ethan Finlay who currently leads the league in assists with five, two of which have set up Kamara. Finlay has also chipped in with goals, scoring two so far this season. On the other wing Columbus utilizes five year Crew veteran Justin Meram, who has contributed with two assists and three goals so far this season. Pulling the strings at the center of the attacking midfield trio is DP puppeteer Federico Higuain. While statistically speaking he is having a slow start to the year by his standards with just two goals and one assist, he is responsible for much of the forward movement of the team. He reads the game like few other players in the league and his ability to pick out the perfect pass or carry the ball through midfield himself has been vital to Columbus’ success. His set piece delivery has also been typically impeccable.
The midfield triangle along with Kamara up top has developed a unique style of play in which they like to gain control of the ball in midfield and quickly spread play to the wings. From there Finlay and Meram look to feed crosses and balls along the ground to the speedy Kamara. However, if the pass isn’t on, both wingers have shown that they aren’t afraid to cut in and take defenders on one v. one. This approach of constantly widening play and quickly penetrating from the flanks means that their opponent’s defenders need to be on their toes for 90+ minutes. If the Fire are to stifle Columbus, look for them to truly bunker in with defensive minded midfielders in the starting lineup while asking the outside backs to help out more in defense than has been the case this season. The Fire are also going to look for Adailton and Jeff Larentowicz to improve on their outing against NYCFC.
While the Crew will be a tough opponent on Friday, and serious playoff contender in the East, the league has consistently shown that every team is beatable no matter their place in the standings. There are several things that Columbus has struggled with and perhaps the Fire will be able to exploit those facets of the match. The first clear cut weakness is found between the goal posts.
Fidgety Hands: While it is Steve Clark’s second season with Columbus he shows that he is still prone to rookie mistakes. In almost every match that the Crew have played so far, there has been at least one situation where Clark parries a shot back into open play. This results in Clark having to dive desperately at the ball a second time to prevent rebounds, his back line having to bail him out by tapping it out for a set piece, or as is clear with Dempsey’s second goal a few weeks ago, the ball gets knocked into the back of the net by the opposition. If the likes of Maloney and Shipp can test him from distance, Clark is bound to spill at least one shot for the Fire forwards to tap in (and at this point they’ll take it).
The next weakness plays into the hands of the Fire a bit more clearly. The Crew continuously struggle with defending counterattacks, best exhibited by both the SJ and DC losses. When the crew have eight or nine players behind the ball they are fine, but when they give possession away in the opponent’s final third many of the attack minded players look lost in transition. The defenders, specifically the center backs, also struggle with counterattacks. Emanuel Pogatetz and Michael Parkhurst are veterans with fantastic positioning and decision making skills but they have proven they cannot keep up with the faster players in the league. If Daivd Accam, Kennedy Igboananike, and Joevin Jones can get at them one v. one they will wreak havoc against the Crew.
The last outright weakness seems to be a reoccurring one found in the Fire’s opponents. Perhaps they are getting some much needed karma, but Chicago continually finds itself playing against depleted sides. When the teams meet on Friday, Columbus will find themselves without midfielder Wil Trapp (concussion) as well as his replacement Mohammed Saeid (Suspension). Perhaps more importantly, Columbus will also be missing newly acquired Argentine right back Hernan Grana who has had his contract mutually terminated due to “homesickness”. These absences leave the Crew needing to start Hector Jimenez and possibly Tyson Wahl in back. Considering that they only have four games started between them this season, it could be a juicy match up for Jones and Accam on the left side. Chad Barson and Chris Klute are also in contention at right back.
Prediction: It’s hard to argue against statistics and trends, the Fire’s dismal away form will continue as will the Crew’s impressive home form. However, a depleted Crew side and Clark’s fidgety hands might be the difference maker. Chicago 3-3 Columbus. Kamara will solidify his quest for the golden boot with a hat trick, Larentowicz from the spot as the Crew go down to 10 men, Accam will blow by the Crew defense to put one in at the far post, and Igboananike will tap in a Clark spillage for the tie.