At some point the Fire will need to establish themselves as a viable contender by beating a good team on the road. The Crew may not be one of the best teams in the league but they are currently one of the six teams above the red line in the Eastern Conference. They're also a side that has lost three games at home and has allowed the second highest amount of goals in the conference.
The Crew's vulnerabilities didn't play into this match as coach Gregg Berhalter used some of the same tactics that that others have used to stifle the Fire on the road. Drop numbers deep, pack the middle, make them break the defense down, and hit the counter. The Fire have yet to find an answer on the road for teams that force them to play away from their strengths.
Laying Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger deeper in midfield to aid the back four didn't help the cause either. The Fire enjoyed big possession numbers and high passing efficiency but it seemed Columbus was content to let them ping the ball around laterally in midfield with pressure coming once they entered the final third. That created an open game in midfield but the Fire were only able to muster three shots on target in the match.
The loss now places them six points behind Toronto FC at the top of the table, but only six points ahead of Atlanta United for the final playoff spot in the East. New York City FC has jumped the Fire into second place and New York Red Bulls are only three behind for third place. The numbers for Chicago against the other five playoff contenders don't lie. The Fire need to improve on the road, and against the better teams quickly.
GK Matt Lampson (5) - The penalty call late in the game was borderline but Lampson did make contact after first reaching the ball. Good in anticipation and cutting off long passes but also not so good in distribution and passing. Only credited with one save on the night.
D Patrick Doody (5) - Headed ball backward led to a Crew chance in the 5th. Chased a bit too often on the outside. Best chance forward was a wayward cross toward Nikolic in the 67th after a nice touch to get by his mark. Beaten to the spot by Meram for the second goal.
D Johan Kappelhof (5.5) - Perhaps its the extended minutes they've played this year but the Fire's centerback duo is suddenly beatable after an excellent start to the season. A few good defensive sequences throughout but the bad bounce off of his leg in the 18th resulted in the Crew's first goal.
D Joao Meira (5) - Like Kappelhof, there was a good play or two but the also vacated the spot that Meram ran onto late in the game for the second goal.
D Matt Polster (4.5) - Columbus had some success on the right side and Polster's passing, like many of his teammates was sloppy in the first half despite good accuracy numbers. A turnover in the 73rd was followed by rushing forward and getting caught too high leading directly to the second goal. Occasional danger going forward overshadowed by questionable defending.
M Bastian Schweinsteiger (5.5) - As the Fire's central midfielders played deeper, they took themselves out of the attack for much of the night. That created some possession and some space in the middle of the field but not enough in the final third. Best sequence came in the 77th but his pass to Nikolic in the box was knocked away.
M Dax McCarty (5.5) - A pinpoint service following a throw-in found a streaking de Leeuw behind the defense for the lone Fire goal. Despite the numbers, the Fire weren't all that dangerous from the run of play.
M Luis Solignac (4.5) - Started on the outside where he has had occasional success but he did little to move the ball forward in the final third and Columbus defenders were prepared when he did attempt to find Nikolic anywhere near goal.
M David Accam (5) - Tried to create something in the attack past midfield but too often he stopped himself by taking one too many touches or he couldn't get by the last defender. His best chance was a softly taken shot rolled at Steffen in the 69th. One of the Fire's three shots on target.
M Michael de Leeuw (5.5) - Scored the Fire's only goal on a well struck header in the 13th to give them a brief lead. A sloppy passing sequence in the 88th led to the Crew chance and ensuing penalty kick. had a good look in the 79th that was hit well wide of goal.
F Nemanja Nikolic (4.5) - Not getting the ball where he needs it but he's also not doing much to get a shot on his own either. Passing/crossing was also off. Has now gone five straight matches without a goal as teams dare the Fire to beat them from somewhere else.
M Arturo Alvarez (5) - Entered the match in the 60th for Solignac to little effect.
D Jonathan Campbell (5) - Came on for Accam in the 89th in an odd, white flag substitution choice.