Fire v Crew match preview

What Are They All About? Columbus Crew SC

It is now mathematically official. With the Chicago Fire’s midweek loss to Seattle and DC United’s win over Columbus, the Fire cannot possibly make the playoffs. With four matches to spare the feat comes later in the season than last year but that is not much of a consolation. Many fans have come to expect a lack of November soccer in Chicago as this is the sixth time in seven years that the Fire has missed out on the post season. Excuses are plentiful but have begun to fall on deaf ears and the pain of the experience has subsided to a slight numbness due to its frequency.

The final nail in the coffin came off of a Chad Marshall header on a play that was a microcosm of the season: apathy, confusion, lack of skill, and panache for inventing new ways to lose. The 71/29 first half possession stat in favor of the Sounders was slightly misleading as Chicago showed flashes of decent play on the counter, but in the end it was not enough. The fan base was fed lines about effort, playing to the best of the team’s ability, the difficulty of the opponent, and the “process” by a head coach who looked as if he had stopped believing the words in front of him months ago.

The true nature of the situation was visible to all who glanced at the MLS standings following the loss. Chicago returned to the cellar of the league and looks likely to stay there for the remainder of the season, the first team to ever repeat that honor in back to back seasons. The league, however, has no room for pity and the remainder of the matches must be played. Chicago’s parade through the mud continues against Columbus on Saturday.

Columbus has not fared much better than Chicago this season and currently sits in 9th of the East, just five points ahead of Chicago. While they aren’t officially out of the playoff picture, they need to win all four of their remaining matches and hope that DC and New England both slip up. Saturday’s match is the first of a home and home series between these historic rivals and Columbus will fancy their chances to take six points against a miserable Chicago side. Should Columbus doom Chicago to the bottom of the table it would also be the 9th time that Columbus has finished above Chicago in the rivalry’s history. There are a lot of plot lines coming together in this one.

Columbus Form Guide: L-W-W-L-L

Previous Match: A 3-0 away loss to DC United.

Formation: 4-2-3-1; Clark; Ashe, Naess, Parkhurst, Afful; Saeid, Trapp; Meram, Tchani, Finlay; Kamara

Strengths: We have seen this Columbus side on two previous occasions this season, a scoreless draw at Toyota Park in March and a 2-1 Chicago Open Cup victory in June. Gregg Berhalter’s side is not one that is full of surprises, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting. He hasn’t deviated from his 4-2-3-1 formation, his tactics, or his personnel this season and it has led to some positives in their play.

“I’ll take Who’s that Namesake for 200”: Earlier this season we discussed the Kei Kamara trade to New England and decided to wait until later to decide who won out on the deal. Well, four and a half months later it appears as if Columbus and their newer, younger and better Kamara are having the last laugh. Ola Kamara arrived in February so it isn’t as if his acquisition resulted from the Kei sale but his quick rise to success has been a real treat to watch.

Ola has scored 15 goals and added 2 assists in his 23 appearances this season. Ten of those goals came in his first eleven matches as an emphatic answer to the question of filling Kei’s shoes. Many strikers would have issues adjusting to a new league, struggle with being the only healthy striker in a line up, and fail to instantly fit into a new tactical system - facts that make the Norwegian’s quick adaptation all the more impressive. We know that Columbus’ strategy largely revolves around creation from the flanks and the dynamic shifting of midfielders in open play. Ola’s singular job is to put the ball in the net and he’s pretty good at it. Whether chasing down through balls, getting on the end of crosses, or striking from distance, the kid is good.

The recent matches against Orlando and New England highlight his talent. A typical through ball from Kamara to Ethan Finlay resulted in an assist during the opening minutes away to Orlando and the exact reverse of that play resulted in an Ola goal at the close of the first half. Second half stoppage time saw the duo link up yet again as a through ball to Ola sent him off to the races before he expertly chipped Bendik for his second of the match. The game against New England showed that he is strong in the box with his first emphatic finish and clinical from the spot with his second goal on a PK. Chicago cannot afford to play a high back line in this one and perhaps the younger legs of Kappelhoff and Campbell should be utilized at center back.

Midfield Dynamism: As alluded to above, Kamara’s success comes largely from the midfield’s ability to create. The ability of Justin Meram, Tony Tchani, and Finlay to provide service to Kamara is the strongest aspect of this Columbus side. There is a real chemistry among the front four that makes them unstoppable on a good day. They can punish outside backs along the touchline put also have enough soccer sense to cut inside or hold up the ball in anticipation of overlapping runs. When you add the fact that Harrison Afful and Corey Ashe act like midfielders that happen to be listed as outside backs the danger from the flanks only intensifies the midfield threat presented by Columbus.

The creativity and freedom exhibited by the front four seems to stem from the comfort of knowing that Will Trapp and Mohammed Saeid/Nicolai Naess have perfected their holding midfield roles. The intelligence of the 23 year old particularly sticks out. Trapp has become an expert in plugging gaps presented by the further advanced midfielders and his ability to win back the ball and quickly distribute has been a main facet in Columbus’ ability to counter. An interesting matchup between him and Polster is on the cards for this weekend.

Weaknesses: Similarly to the above column, Columbus’ straightforward style of play has also been the source of their downfall at times.

If Kamara Doesn’t Score, Who Will?: For as good as the Norwegian has been, the singular dimension of Columbus’ attack has been frustrating. If Kamara is having an off day or is effectively neutralized by a hounding center back, then the Crew struggle. Even when the likes of Finlay and Meram score it is because of interplay with Kamara or by utilizing space created by the forward.

Chicago isn’t a shining example of this either, but aside from Kamara there are only three players on the Columbus roster that have scored more than two goals on the season. One of those players is Federico Higuain who is likely to miss this match through injury. Adam Jahn and Connor Casey are the only other current forwards on the roster that have appeared for the Crew this season, so the options on the bench aren’t extensive either. It’s simple on paper but if Kamara is stifled then Columbus is stifled. DC United utilized Rob Vincent as the holding mid in a 4-1-4-1 and he essentially served as a third center back that followed Kamara around the entire match. Perhaps Cocis was provided with a card board cut out of Kamara to carry around this week.

“But I Just Ran a Lot the Other Way…”: Columbus provides yet another example of the danger associated with using two advancing outside backs in a back four. Afful and Ashe look great going forward. They have a dangerous cross and a testing shot, but the match against DC highlights glaring mistakes associated with that strategy. We’ve discussed Patrick Nyarko and Lloyd Sam’s partnership at length in our DC previews and the duo absolutely tore Ashe and Afful apart in their midweek matchup.

An initial scare in the early minutes came off of a Sam cross to Patrick Mullins as the winger was provided ample time on the ball due to Ashe failing to track back. By the time Naess slid over to cover, Sam was already deep into the final third. It was an early sign of things to come. There were several instances where Afful and Ashe looked more interested in providing an outlet for the counter than in marking DC wingers: an Acosta shout for a penalty came off of a play where Columbus’ wingbacks were ten yards away from any DC player and literally had their shoulder turned the wrong way; DC’s first goal came from an interchange between Acosta and an onrushing Sam, Ashe was late in recovering as his mark scored; the second goal sequence started on the left wing by Nyarko and finished by Lamar Neagle in acres of space on the right wing; the final goal came from a Neagle run down the flank and a tidy cutback to Saborio, again no marking on Neagle. This match is begging for Ramos and Vincent as outside backs to help Accam and Goossens punish Columbus’ own outside backs.

Prediction: We have no idea what will happen in this match, absolutely no clue. We know that both teams desperately need to win and that the match could turn brutal. A mass of traveling fans from Chicago on buses provided by the front office and a club generated tifo by Columbus further reveal the weight of the encounter. These next two matches will make or break Columbus’ season and could very well lead to the termination of some of Chicago’s staff and a decision to decline options on players.

In lieu of a score prediction we will provide you with an interesting tidbit regarding Chicago’s line up. Reports indicate that Drew Conner, Patrick Doody, and Alex Morrell did not travel to Seattle midweek, nor will they fly to Columbus. With Colin Fernandez heading to Lima for camp with the Peruvian U-20 team, the calls from both fans and pundits to play the kids will clearly go unanswered for another week.

While this particular instance is disappointing given that Chicago’s season is over, it also points to a worrying future. We understand Paunovic and Nelson Rodriguez are attempting to avoid the wooden spoon but it appears as if they do not trust the youth and/or they do not believe they are skilled enough. While we can save an analysis of other MLS teams relying heavily on a bottom- up structure for their clubs for another time, it is becoming evident that the youth movement alluded to by Rodriguez’s post-Paunovic hire comments will not come to fruition.

That in itself is not terrible as there are plenty of other models that have proven successful in the league. However, given the transfer activity of the last two windows—acquiring out of contract players, loanees, miniscule transfer fees, and the peculiar Alejandro Bedoya situation—the election to leave almost 500k of the salary cap unused, and Rodriguez’s comments that one player does not make or break a team, it appears as if the Fire are not going to utilize a top down model either. Their dumpster diving and thrift shopping mentality is more reminiscent of a vegan, bike-riding Logan Square resident than it is of an MLS club and it will continue to affect their position in the league going forward.

The next window will be telling but the Fire also need to find out if their current crop of youngster can play at the MLS level. If the passionate fan base will not be rewarded with a difference maker while not seeing the full potential of Fernandez, Conner, or Calistri it will continue to seem as if mediocrity is the ceiling for Chicago.

Filed under: 2016 Regular Season

Tags: Chicago Fire


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  • Your words about the future of cf97 will fall on deaf ears in the FO. They don't care about what the fan base says/wants let alone what the media says.

  • In reply to penapirata:

    It's still good to hear them, plus, he's right. If Andell isn't willing to spend on things that other teams are, like a USL squad for full, in-house talent development, signing players from the higher-tier and talent-filled leagues, among other things, the last 7 years is what you get. And as far as one player not having an impact, uh, I don't have to call BS on that. We're seeing it more and more. It's not just about having a marquee player who's reputation sells jersey and puts butts in seats. Those players improve the squad with their skill and mentality which rubs off on the other players. Case in point, all the ex-Fire players that have and are blooming well in LA. WTH?

    I want to see what Pauno can do with a REAL squad of talent, not the we're-okay-and-that's-okay squad. The guy's got to run a race wearing a 50lb Andell weight chained to his leg.

    There is a moral to this story for the players, though: if you can survive (and possibly even thrive?) in Chicago, you can make it anywhere in this league.

  • Updated MLSPU salary numbers have been released. New list includes Arshakyan and de Leeuw.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    So am I right on assuming that based on the 2016 numbers for de Leeuw he will be making closer to 7 figures in 2017 because the 2016 salary is based on half a year?

  • In reply to penapirata:

    I don't think so.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    I need some tips to growing my blog. Can you help me? My blog is

  • The blog will develop and grow as people find it and like the content. Email me and we can talk about it

  • In reply to penapirata:

    The figures on that list are annualized. So, it would be a player's salary if he were playing for the entire season.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    Where do you find all of your Chicago Fire info? I a few more places to find some info for my blog.

  • I find all of my info here. ;)

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    Lol Solignac makes nothing compared to De Leeuw

  • Hey Guys check out my Chicago Fire blog at

  • Weekend picks:

    Houston and New York City draw
    New York RB over Philadelphia
    Columbus and Chicago draw
    Toronto FC over DC United
    New England over Sporting KC
    FC Dallas over Los Angeles
    Colorado over Portland
    Real Salt Lake over San Jose
    Orlando and Montreal draw
    Vancouver and Seattle draw


  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    I'm not sure between a draw va Fire and Columbas. I think that the Fire will lose especially since their away and have been in a bad streak. Also Ethan Finally and Higuan could cause problems for that back line depending on who Pano plays.

  • I have bee a CF STH for 5 years and hope every year things will get better. I have followed the great reviews by GR and others. I believe that if we are honest we can state that no coach can built a competitive team if there is no support by the leadership. I think that with the players he has Paunovic got the maximum out of his teamand there a players with potential to get better. But it definitely lacks a central figure that can pull the team and lead by example to show compassion on the field. I thought Schweinsteiger might be one. But found this

  • I have bee a CF STH for 5 years and hope every year things will get better. I have followed the great reviews by GR and others. I believe that if we are honest we can state that no coach can built a competitive team if there is no support by the leadership. I think that with the players he has Paunovic got the maximum out of his team. Some players have potential to get much better. But the team definitely lacks a central figure that can pull the team and lead by example to show compassion on the field. I thought Schweinsteiger might be one. But found this

  • In reply to Obli:

    The Nutmeg News is a parody site.

    It does say something that many folks have taken that story as factual though.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    Makes sense that serious followers of a parody franchise would look to a parody coverage site. The writing's on the wall, G.

  • Apologize for sending comment twice. Doing this first time :)

  • Guys

    I just witnessed a game where the coach has completely lost the team. This could be one of the worst Fire soccer games ever played. They cannot return next year with Pauno. in fact Andell has to sell.

  • In reply to Brokerman:

    No. I think that we need more players and a new owner

  • In reply to Brokerman:

    As much as it might suck to have to work for Hauptman, these are professional players and coaches. How a team can be this bad for an entire season, with almost and entirely new roster, is insane. Every single person who is not a player, should be let go. Not one of them is good at their job. We are out-coached every single game. We have very poor players with very poor soccer IQ. It feels like they do not understand the game. Its hard to watch this team play. I go to the stadium knowing that I am going to leave angry. Im not going to enjoy myself, and that I have wasted gas by driving to the stadium. I have no idea why I do it to myself, but I want them to be good so bad. I want them to play well, but when a team puts out Rodrigo Ramos, Harrington, Cocis, Alvarez, Thiam, Solignac week in and week out, there is ZERO chance of them being successful.

    And why hasn't Fernandez played for us this season? Callistri? Morrell? We have been out of the playoffs for so long but still play a guy like Cocis or Alvarez instead of seeing what we have. It just goes to show have incompetent the people are who run and pick the team.

    Pauno needs to go.

  • After 3 nil I was blood thirsty, make it 8 nil, expose this trainwreck for what it is. I really tried to be optimistic going into the season with a rookie coach and incomplete roster. Do you think AH or NR give a f#$% about us (fans) or what we think needs to happen? Its a business, the only thing that matters to them is $$.We need to stop financially supporting this. I stopped going to games this year. ( 4 or 5 games a year, 5-7 people, tix, parking, concessions.. adds up ) When is the rest of the fanbase going to wake up! STOP giving AH your fan dollars for this! Stop paying for parking, tickets, concessions, merchandise, etc. STOP! NOT ONE MORE DIME! The only thing they understand is the bottom line, STOP paying for a sub inferior product and feeding it! Section 8, Sector Latino, soccer moms and youth clubs that go , where are you! STOP GOING!..Force the the shareholders and the league to step in! Chicago soccer fans deserve better than this!.. Rant off

  • Fireman I am 100% behind you. I had at one time 6 season tickets. Last year I decided that until I saw results on the field I would just go to UIC games for free. Honesty the competiton is better and you actually see good competitive coaching. Does anyone really believe that NR was hired to get results or to at least put a competitive team on the field?The game against Colombus was the worst Professional game I have seen in my life. Did anyone notice that When Accam left the field that Pauno gave him his back. No slap of the hand or anything.

  • Well anyone who was entertaining the fantasy that we could get Bradley back can fortget that one... for a while at least.

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