Martin Tomszak takes a look at the first of two contests against the Columbus Crew.
What Are They All About? Columbus Crew SC Rivalry Week Pt. 1
Finally! After a few injury and international call ups forced changes to the lineup Chicago registered its first win since May and its first ever victory over the Seattle Sounders. There’s no time to celebrate as the Fire look ahead to the first of two matches against the Columbus Crew in the same week, taking on their Eastern Conference rivals at Toyota Park on Wednesday and then making the trek to Columbus on Sunday. The Crew sits in fifth place with 24 points, having played two more matches than Chicago. A win in this one would go a long way to jump starting a playoff push for the Fire.
Columbus Form Guide (Last 5 Matches): L-W-D-W-D
Previous match: A 3-0 away loss to Montreal Impact.
Formation in the last match: 4-2-3-1, Clark; Francis, Pogatetz, Parkhurst, Jimenez; Tchani, Saeid; Meram, Higuain, Finlay; Kamara
Consistency: It has been almost two months since the last meeting between these two sides, but Columbus has remained consistent in their tactics and somewhat consistent in their results. They still boast the league leading goal scorer, Kei Kamara (now with 12), and still have the league leading assist provider, Ethan Finlay (now with 10). While it may seem like a writer’s cop out, it would be an excellent idea to recap that preview in order to see what the Fire will be up against on Wednesday.
Last time out the strengths discussion focused on the Crew outshooting their opponents, having Kai Kamara in the lineup, playing a counterattacking style enabled by their 4-2-3-1 system, having great chemistry in the front four, and being dangerous from set piece delivery. It is safe to say that Gregg Berhalter has truly ingrained these tactics into his players because if you look at the last five matches the same strengths are evident. In fact, if you overlook the loss to Montreal this past weekend, you could even say that you have a perfect highlight reel of how the Crew likes to play. Two brilliant counter attacking plays led to Ethan Finlay goals as well as a win against the Red Bulls; a quickly played ball up the middle followed by another pass out wide and good service into the box led to a Tony Tchani goal against RSL. That was followed up with another Finlay goal off of an excellent cross from playmaker Frederico Higuain to steal a point from Rio Tinto; Kei Kamara’s poaching lead to two goals and three points against New England; and lastly a brilliant finish from Higuain after a quick counter earned a draw against the defending champions LA Galaxy.
As if they weren’t a strong enough squad last time around, it is also clear that the Crew’s work rate has increased and they have added a new facet to their game. Despite being fluid on the break and being labeled a fast paced counter attacking team, they have slowly built up the ability to hold onto the ball as well.
While they are far from a “possession based” team, over the last five matches Columbus has managed to out-possess all of their opponents. To add to this stat, they have also managed to out pass their opponents in those matches as well (averaging 425 passes per match), with a majority of those passes coming in the attacking third of the pitch. It’s not tiki taka per se, but the fact that the Crew can now control possession as well as threaten on the break is a scary thought. Defender Michael Parkhurst alluded to a game plan of possession and bunkering in with his pre-match comments that the Crew will be looking to keep a clean sheet while they hope to nab something on the counter. Chicago will need to play with high intensity from the first whistle; they cannot afford to let the Crew gain any confidence in their game plan.
Consistency: For as great as the Crew have been in developing their style of play, they have been equally as great in failing to deal with their shortcomings. Last time around we examined the Crew’s weak defending which often came as a result of bad goal keeping performances, a lack of true chemistry between the center backs and the goalie, and an inability to deal with counterattacks. These faults have remained evident over the last five matches, and have perhaps gotten worse on a few fronts.
For example, all three goals in the loss against Montreal were arguably avoidable. On the first play, the Crew’s inability to deal with the counter was very evident. Ignacio Piatti isn’t exactly the fastest midfielder in the league and yet he was allowed to take the ball from midfield into the final third with Columbus’ holding midfielders just watching him pass by them. He then played a hopeful through ball to Dominic Oduro which Emanuel Pogatetz comically whiffed the clearance on, allowing for a tap in. The second goal is a front runner for goal of the week with Marco Donadel burying a 30 yard screamer into the upper 90, but on the replay Columbus has to be asking themselves what he was doing unmarked off of a corner. There were only seven outfield players behind the ball on that set play and it was a clear example of the Crew readying themselves for the counter while putting defending on the back burner. Highlights of the third goal can be sent to anyone who took issue with criticism of Steve Clark and the back line. Dilly Duka shimmied himself into space on the right hand side of the box and got a shot off right at Clark, who lazily spilled it back into open play for an Oduro tap in. Neither of the center backs felt it necessary to close down the onrushing striker.
These errors had been typical of the goals conceded in the Crew’s previous two matches with Anatole Abang’s quick counter leaving Pogatetz stranded on New York’s lone goal, while set piece ball watching and a Looney Tunes-esque miscommunication between Pogatetz and Clark were at fault in Salt Lake City. Montreal seemed to have learned from the game tapes.
While the defensive lapses were egregious, the best lesson that the Fire can take from the Crew’s loss north of the border comes not from the goals scored by Montreal, but from the way they organized themselves. The Impact’s ability to close down spaces and pressure the ball for the full 90 minutes meant that although the Crew had the greater possession statistics, it wasn’t effective possession. No matter who starts in the midfield for the Fire, it would be wise to pressure Columbus on both sides of the ball. If the work rate is there for Chicago as it was against Seattle, the result will be there as well.
Absences: The Crew will be at full strength on Wednesday, having started the same line up the last five matches. Will Trapp is finally back and working his way into full match fitness. No first team regulars received Gold Cup call ups and none find themselves on the injury list. However, with a long week of travel and three matches in eight days it would not be surprising to see some squad rotation. Berhalter might also look to send out a message to battle complacency among the starting eleven after their previous match.
Prediction: While hard work and chance creation have often been evident, luck has not been on the side of the Fire for much of the season. The win against Seattle has hopefully turned the tide. Chicago 3-1 Columbus. Igboananike will make Pogatetz look silly on the counter for the first, Magee will add another, and Lovel Palmer will show that his Open Cup finish was not a fluke. Consolation from Kei Kamara as he stretches his lead in the race for the Golden Boot.