While everyone waits for Didier Drogba to decide whether or not he's accepting an offer from the league that could lead to Chicago, Martin Tomszak takes a look at the Fire v Crew rematch.
What Are They All About? Columbus Crew SC Rivalry Week Pt. 2
Despite a Man of the Match performance from Sean Johnson, the Chicago Fire fell 1-0 to the Columbus Crew on Wednesday night in the first of two meetings between the sides this week. The Crew will gladly take their first road win of the season against a bitter rival and will look forward to the chance to make it two wins in a row at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday. On the other side of the coin, Chicago needs to take a good hard look at themselves both as a team and as a club. The sense of history will always be there, but an identity seems lacking at the moment. They were outwitted, outmuscled and outplayed, looking second best for roughly 80 minutes of the contest, something that cannot be repeated this weekend. With matches quickly slipping away and the Fire continuously looking up from the basement of the standings, something needs to change. Will it happen on Sunday?
Columbus Form Guide (Last 5 Matches): W-L-W-D-W
Previous match: A 1-0 away win over the Chicago Fire.
Formation in the last match: 4-2-3-1, Clark; Francis, Wahl, Parkhurst, Barson; Tchani, Trapp; Meram, Higuain, Finlay; Kamara
Strengths: It is unnecessary to re-do an entire strengths section of the same team just a few days after a previous article, so instead the focus will revolve around the tangible expression of those strengths during Wednesday’s match.
Columbus’ ability to hold onto the ball was seen statistically through possession and passing percentages. They had roughly 56% of the overall match possession, but the first twenty minutes saw a whopping 72% of possession in favor of the Crew. Columbus also managed to surpass their average of 425 passes per match by stringing together 465 passes, 372 of which were successfully completed. Almost 300 of those passes came in the attacking half with a good chunk of those coming during the first 45 minutes for Columbus, perhaps best seen on the sequence that lead to the match’s only goal. Those post match numbers only back up what spectators at Toyota Park saw during live play, with Columbus dominating the midfield battle. Yes, the Fire were shorthanded but the Columbus attacking midfield “3” made Cocis and Ritter look silly in the first half. So much for a strong start from the Fire…
The quick counterattacking play that led to the goal solidified that Columbus’ game plan has been perfected over the course of the season. Doody found himself pushing into the final third for the Fire and failed to track back after losing the ball. Both Shipp and Cocis failed to cover the open spaces, with Razvan even drifting centrally momentarily to the center rather than tightening up on Finlay. A well served ball into the box was put on a platter for Kei Kamara who headed the ball into the back of the net. Questions must also be asked of Lovel Palmer’s man marking and determination in the air on that particular play. This ability to exploit the Fire defense occurred on multiple occasions before and after that goal and the score could have easily been 3-0 or 4-0 if it weren’t for Sean Johnson.
Gregg Berhalter’s ability to ingrain the 4-2-3-1 system in his players really showed on Wednesday despite a few changes to the starting lineup. His ability to see the match altering mistakes Pogatetz has made in his last few outings and the decision to replace him with Wahl worked wonders as Columbus looked solid in the back. Clearly the squad understands the tactics no matter who is starting and their dominance was heavily on display. Look for more of the same from the Crew on Sunday as they play in front of a crowd that has seen their stadium become somewhat of a fortress this season.
Weaknesses: Let’s just say that this isn’t the easiest weaknesses section to author. Columbus looked good throughout most of the match, but there were tiny glimpses of feebleness to be found. The Fire need to find the chink in Columbus’ armor if they plan on leaving Ohio with any points, and after reviewing Wednesday’s match the key to this success likely lies in Accam, Nyarko, Jason Johnson, and Magee being on the field at the same time.
The late substitutions that led to the introductions of Nyarko, Johnson, and Accam lit a spark under the butts of the Chicago team and perhaps seeing them start together will allow for the fast paced beginning that was very much needed on Wednesday. In just eighteen minutes together the trio equaled the shot on target tally that it took the rest of the team 72 minutes to reach… Whether or not Yallop risks Accam’s fitness before the Open Cup match remains to be seen, but if he prioritizes the league and utilizes his attacking options, the result should be very different from this past Wednesday. Columbus may have been trying to hang onto a point but they were truly on the ropes for the last ten minutes of the match when being pressured by an attack minded Chicago. Who knows, maybe we’ll even see Harry Shipp allowed to fulfill his role as a center mid to give the Fire an extra bit of edge. It may seem a desperate measure but Chicago needs to go all out and get on the board early if they look to split the six points that were up for grabs at the beginning of the week.
The Fire will also take solace in the fact that Adailton will return from suspension on Sunday, allowing Polster to return to his more natural position as a defensive midfielder. If the Crew come in with the mindset that the game is already won, Adailton could prove to be a thorn in their side with his positional awareness. Polster’s ability to serve as a lynch pin in transition was greatly stifled as a center back and he should be itching to make a difference when utilized properly.
Prediction: It has proven impossible to foresee which Chicago team shows up for each particular match, but the straits are dire indeed for the Fire. Perhaps Chicago steps up and gives the Crew a bit of their own medicine by notching their first road win of the campaign. Chicago 2-1 Columbus. It may be logic defying but so are the Fire. It’d be wise to put your money on Kamara scoring for Columbus and let’s say Magee and Polster for the Fire.