Fire v Crew re-match preview

What Are They All About? Columbus Crew SC

It appears as if adaptability, knowledge, confidence, and resourcefulness are not always useful in acquiring three points. Sometimes you need grit, determination, the will to win, and to put it quite bluntly, ability. The Chicago Fire were lacking in all of the latter in their encounter with longtime rivals Columbus before the international break. In what was one of the worst displays of the season—reflected both statistically and in the uninspiring performance strung together by the Fire—Chicago lost 3-0 at MAPFRE Stadium in front of a rather large traveling contingent.

In the post-match press conference Veljko Paunovic diverted slightly from the usual “Congratulations to the other team, we tried really hard, I’m proud of the guys” script to show some frustration with the side. He noted the fragility of the team, an inability to score goals while constantly finding ways to concede them, a lack of competitive spirit and perhaps the most telling of the bunch, an allusion to finding players that are mentally strong in the upcoming transfer window.

With just three matches left in the regular season, there are a number of important personnel decisions to be made in the coming weeks. Players on options, loans that can be made permanent, the standing of players returning from USL stints, the looming expansion draft, two open DP spots, seemingly endless TAM and GAM, and the newly added criterion of having passion all loom large on the minds of everyone involved on the technical side of the organization.

It’s do or die time for some as Chicago looks for revenge in the second fixture of the home and home series against Columbus. Is it too late for some of the players to prove themselves useful to Nelson Rodriguez and Veljko Paunovic, or are we in for a late discovery of quality?

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

Previous Match: A 3-0 home win against Chicago.

Formation: 4-2-3-1; Clark; Afful, Parkhurst, Sauro, JImenez; Naess, Saeid; Finlay, Duka, Meram; Jahn

Strengths: This is the fourth meeting between these two sides this season and they haven’t played at all since their last meeting. You know this Columbus side well and if you don’t we’d like to invite you to read out previous analyses of the Crew. This week’s shortened segment will look at their last match to highlight where Columbus’ strengths were evident and where Chicago struggled.

Go After the Youngling: The Crew came out from the opening whistle with a game plan of overloading the flanks and specifically targeting Brandon Vincent on Chicago’s left side. It doesn’t get much clearer than Gregg Berhalter shouting at both Afful and Finlay to pressure Vincent on and off the ball. Their ability to interchange with Duka and create two v. one situations on that side of the pitch proved disastrous for Chicago. Afful completed 51 of his 64 pass attempts and his heat map reveals that most of his time was spent as close to the touchline as possible rather than cutting in to take on center backs as he has in the past, definitely a calculated strategy.

Vincent has looked good at times throughout the season but this encounter was not one of those instances.  He appeared to second guess himself, he lacked confidence in his decision making, his positioning was off, his press was slow, and ultimately the pressure got to him. His teammates weren’t much of a help either. Unlike Afful’s ability to track back and help Parkhurst deal with Accam, Vincent’s teammates often left him hanging. On several occasions Vincent was beaten for pace or mistimed his tackle and Afful was left with the time and space to cross or shoot without any added pressure. Thiam and Accam were left ball watching and marking ghosts in some of those situations and the Columbus right back registered two shots and two crosses before his eighth minute goal.

While it remains to be seen whether Afful will return in time from Ghanaian national team duty, the inability of Chicago to work as a cohesive unit defensively should be worrisome for Paunovic. Should Afful feature he will have another field day against this Chicago side. Should he not, Ola Kamara might be seen from the start with instructions to drift wide, Duka could be moved to the flank, or 19 year old Christian Martinez might get his third start of the campaign.

The Fear of Loss: While Chicago looked okay in flashes of the first half, the second half was very telling of the squad’s current state. Columbus was able to pressure relentlessly—again, typically down the flank—and their effort paid off tremendously with two goals in the first fifteen minutes of the half. The mental toll the 3-0 score line took on Chicago’s players was all too evident. Shoulders visibly slumped for the remainder of the match, pointless persistent fouling was commonplace, heads were hung low when the ball wasn’t in play, and perhaps most telling players either took themselves out of the match with their performance or completely forgot that they were part of a team.

David Accam spent a majority of the match attempting to win it on his own despite the Columbus backline finding ways to effectively neutralize him throughout the ninety minutes. The Ghanaian completed just seven passes in the match and of those only three of them weren’t back passes necessitated by overwhelming pressure. His inability to see players in positions that are better than his own, has lack of trust that teammates can get something done, and his blatant nonchalance late in matches might have something to do with him scoring just one goal in the last seven matches. It seems that opponents have figured him out.

While Accam’s place is secure for next season many of his teammates do not have that luxury and their lack of cohesion could cost them their jobs. Questions linger about Rodrigo Ramos and Khaly Thiam’s loans, John Goossens caused some head scratching with his positioning and defensive efforts, Luis Solignac appeared to be auditioning for the Bears’ field goal kicker vacancy, and Sean Johnson might as well have been packing his backs and contacting his realtor during the match. We realize that these “Columbus” strengths revolve around Chicago but that’s all we’ve got. The Fire made an awful team look decent in the reverse fixture and the Crew will enter this match with not only confidence but desperation as this could be their last shot at the playoffs.

Weaknesses: Like we said above, this is not a good Columbus side. With the match being played just days after Chicago’s 19th anniversary party perhaps some of the passion that Paunovic called for will present itself in this encounter. It is the second to last home match for Chicago and they owe it to the fan base to get six points from those encounters. If that isn’t motivation enough there are a few other factors in play.

If I Can’t Go Then You Can’t Go: A Fire victory on Thursday would eliminate Columbus from playoff contention and there are few better ways to exhibit passion than preventing a longtime rival from achieving success. In a modern MLS era that has largely revolved around made up rivalries and media buildup the Chicago-Columbus rivalry has a heated history that should prove an apt testing ground for Paunovic questions of mentality.

The Wooden Spoon: Should Houston win their match against Seattle on Wednesday then Chicago would need a victory on Thursday night to avoid finishing in the bottom of the MLS standings for a second consecutive year. No franchise has ever achieved that feat in the league’s history. Even if Houston draws or losses their match Chicago has a four point gap to make up in the last three matches so beating Columbus is a must.

While we can talk about The Process elsewhere, it would be telling if Chicago added this unwanted record to their collection in the same week that Philadelphia joins Colorado and New York City in the playoffs.

Prediction: We don’t have the heart to tell you, please fill in your own predictions below.

Filed under: 2016 Regular Season

Tags: Chicago Fire


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  • I predict more chemistry building and happy thoughts of nothing but money to be spent during the off season.

  • 4-2 Chicago

  • Afful got injured with ghana

  • In reply to Firefan5819:

    "Who's the bigger Afful? The Afful or the Afful who follows him?"

  • Guardado is a player I dreamt about being here in Chicago. Looks like we are never going to get a world-class, decent player. Maybe we should of gotten Bedoya seems like that was our last hope of a player with reputation.

  • In reply to Firefan5819:

    January is big. They have to get something done.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    I feel like you know something ;)

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    In your opinion, will/can they get something done?

  • In reply to penapirata:

    League may make sure something gets done.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    It is very sad that it possibly has to come to that. That speaks volumes of the mentality of ownership.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    Who will they be able to convince to join them when the last few have refused to come here? I fear a very underwhelming January...

  • In reply to DerSting:

    Time will tell.
    People will continue to doubt their willingness until something actually gets done.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    My fear is that when they are finally willing, the well is poisoned and no player of note waste waste their time playing here...

  • In reply to DerSting:

    As far as the poisioned well statement goes...let's just say I'm already surprised we retain the players we do. Maybe my view is skewed by multiple years of demoralising disappointment, I dunno...

  • In reply to BrianC.:

    Then consider how they handle homegrown players as well...

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    What about the rumor that's been going around that Andell has no money to spend on this club?

  • In reply to Jimmy Garcia:

    We'll see this offseason.

  • fb_avatar

    We had Bedoya, he says he signed a contract with us. It was our cheap ass owner who didn't want to pay. Something needs to be done with Andy!

  • In reply to Keith Woller:

    Player contracts are signed with MLS, that's the point of single-entity. I've heard him on a podcast saying that he was sure he was headed to Chicago during the whole negotiations with MLS until the last minute. It's noteworthy that a) that changed at the last minute and b) that he didn't have a problem with it - he was willing to come to Chicago. Still, it seems that AH's tight fist scuttled the deal.

  • guillermo

    What did the fire receive for giving up Bodoya? Hopefully people will realize that the only way that we can get a change is to with hold renewing the ticket packages. It tears me up to see new owners coming into The DC organization and we are left with perhaps the worst management combination that has ever been in the MLS. Does any one have any idea why old andy picked a guy with no winning background like NR to lead a failed team. Its pretty obvious that they have lost the city and the team after the columbus performance. It was sort of sad to see Accam their best player leave the field with even a notice from Pauno.

  • In reply to Brokerman:

    They got TAM, GAM, the Union's first pick in the next draft, discovery rights on an unnamed player, and the top allocation spot.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    That's honestly not even bad

  • In reply to Firefan5819:

    I don't have any issue with the end result of the Bedoya move.

  • I think I may have forgotten the Fire are still playing. I am going to the game Sunday and cannot figure out why.
    GR, what do you see as the biggest need for next year?
    Will SJ still be in goal?
    You said Harrington is signed for next year, is that guaranteed or can the Fire walk away?
    I am assuming Ramos is out the door, will they move Kappelhof back to CB or find another CB to pair with Campbell?
    I cannot see Cocis coming back, but he has been solid. How long is he signed for?
    The Tall One sucks, so can we loan him out to a team in Quatar?

    Here are my "keepers" for next year: Accam, SJ, Campbell, Kappelhof, Alvarez, de Leeuw, Goosens, Meira, Polster, Solignac, Vincent.
    Here are my "why not keepers" : Calistri, Doody, Conner, Morrell, Fernandez, Thiam (would like to see a full year because he is only 22 years old)

    My "See ya, wouldn't want to be ya" list: Lampson, Gerhig, Stephens, LaBrocca, Harrington, Arshakyan, Ramos

  • In reply to Krasov:

    Lampson isn't necessarily a bad backup for the cup games, just don't start him in semis

  • In reply to Krasov:

    Biggest need....creative central midfielder who can change the game and demand defensive attention from the opposition.
    My bet is that Johnson will be gone.
    Harrington is guaranteed for 2017.
    Ramos will likely be gone, thereby moving Kappelhof back into the middle. They'll be in the market for a RB or CB.
    They have an option on Cocis for next year.
    Arshakyan doesn't appear to be much more than depth but he's not expensive.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    You think Johnson will be gone?!?!?! I can't imagine this team without him. I'm 16 and when I started getting into the Fire, it was Sean's first season and I pretty much saw him grow up over here. He is the longest serving Fire member right now so I don't want to see him leave!

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    Why would Johnson be gone. When ever he is in goal 50% of the time we get a point this season.

  • In reply to ChicagoFireBlogger:

    Call it a hunch.

  • In reply to Krasov:

    I feel that Ramos is useless. He rarely pushes up and his defense is poor.
    Cocis is good becaus of his defensive contribution.

  • Have any of the players actually become better soccer players under Pauno? Possibly Campbell is the only player that I think is a much better player now than he was at the start of the year. Polster is half of the player he was last year. Pauno has done absolutely nothing to warrant him coming back next season. He has made a terrible team even worse. I was driving to the game tonight wondering why I do this to myself. Why do I put myself through this. Why do I watch them play miserable soccer that just leaves me scratching my head trying to understand why he just lobbed a ball 20 feet over his teammates head. Why did Alvarez try to play a 40 yard ball with the outside of his foot for no reason? I realized tonight that I do not care about this team anymore. I don't think any of the players are good enough and the organization doesn't care about me either. This is a terrible situation that we are all in.


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