Saturday’s match marks the 50th regular-season meeting between the Crew and the Fire dating back to 1998. The Crew has secured points in 25 of those meetings, posting a 12-24-13 record. Interim Head Coach Brian Bliss did not face the Fire when with the Wizards as a player in 1998 but did see Chicago in his previous interim role with Kansas City in 2006, falling to the Fire in the lone meeting.
While all eyes in Crew Stadium were on witnessing a sold-out soccer crowd in Columbus on September 10, Central Ohio tuned in to the match in droves from its homes. Watching the 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifier, Columbus was the highest-rated market in the country for this game (5.1 rating) with Miami-Ft. Lauderdale was second with a 3.3 share. Overall, the match was the second-most viewed USMNT qualifier in ESPN history (2,243,000 viewers), and combined with the UniMas Spanish-language broad- cast the match drew a combined audience of more than 7 million viewers – second only to the March 26, 2013 match between the USMNT and Mexico at Azteca.
Federico Higuain now leads the team with three game-winning assists in 2013. His seventh and eighth assists of the season were crucial, providing the game-tying and game-winning assists in a must-win affair in Montreal. In 39 career games for the Crew, Higuain has recorded 14 goals and 15 assists, with five game-winning goals and five game-winning assists.
END OF A TREND
Last Saturday’s 2-1 victory snapped a recent trend of scorelines that either helped or plagued the Black & Gold for a six-week span ... from August 10 through September 7, the Crew played to six shutout results ... on August 10 and August 17, the Black & Gold kept the Red Bulls and Toronto FC off of the scoreboard respectively in 2-0 wins ... then, a two-match losing streak saw a reversal of goal-scoring fortune as the Crew was shut-out 4-0 on August 24 at Real Salt Lake and a 1-0 loss to Seattle on August 31 ... the streak continued as the Crew defeated Houston, 2-0, on September 4 before a 3-0 defeat at Sporting KC on September 7 ... that trend seemed likely to continue with the Impact up 1-0 last Saturday before a pair of second-half goals gave the Crew a 2-1 win.
COMEBACK KIDS ...
The Black & Gold’s 2-1 win over Eastern Conference-leading Montreal did more than just put the Crew back in the hunt for playoff contention ... the win accomplished something the club had been unable to do all season: win after its opponent scored the match’s opening goal ... prior to last Saturday, the Crew was 0-11-3 in 2013 after conceding the opening strike, giving the Crew its first comeback win of 2013.
... AND A LITTLE LATE-GAME MAGIC
Dominic Oduro’s game-winning goal in the 78th minute on Saturday at Montreal sealed a 2-1 win for the Black & Gold and also provided some much needed late-game magic for the Crew ... Oduro’s goal was the team’s first game-winning or game-tying goal after the 75th minute in 2013 ... in a welcomed change with respect to goals of that nature in the final 15 minutes, the Crew had previously allowed six game-winning goals against and three game-tying goals against already in 2013.
SOMETHING IN THE HALFTIME SPEECH
Whatever Interim Head Coach Brian Bliss said in the halftime locker room in Montreal last Saturday clearly worked ... with his club down 1-0 to the Eastern Conference-leading Impact, Bliss’ Crew scored a pair of goals in the second 45 to give the Crew a 2-1 win ... the victory was the Crew’s first of the season when trailing at halftime ... previously, the club was 0-8-2 overall when trailing at half, including a frustrating 0-6-0 record when trailing after the first 45 minutes on the road.
THE FIGHT FOR THE POSTSEASON
With five matches remaining, the Crew remains in the hunt for the playoffs this year with hopes to return to postseason play after an absence in 2012 ... of the five remaining matches, four of the tilts are against Eastern Conference opponents, including a crucial home-and-home series with New England to wrap-up the year ... the club’s lone Western Conference match is next Sunday at FC Dallas.
For his two-assist effort against the first-place Montreal Impact last week, Crew forward Federico Higuaín won 52-percent of the vote in FutbolMLS' Latino de la Jornada 29 poll. Higuaín leads the Black & Gold with eight assists this season and is second on the team with nine goals in 2013.
Sometimes, it's good to get the enemy's perspective. TheCrew.com's Cody Sharrett and Chicago-Fire.com's Jeff Crandall grill each other on the current state of the Crew and Fire.
Cody Sharrett: The Fire sit in playoff position for the first time in 2013. What’s the atmosphere like in the locker room with six matches left to go in the season?
Jeff Crandall: Having gone 2-7-1 through their first 10 matches, everyone at the Fire will say the team had a pretty bad start to the year. Still, the spirit never faltered and the arrivals of Mike Magee and Bakary Soumare in late May helped stabilize things a great deal.
Despite a few disappointing results to start September, the team still remains one of the hottest in the league since that time but the fact the fact that we’re in mid-September and last Saturday was the first time they’ve reached a playoff position tells just how deep a hole was dug at the beginning of the year.
There are a few reasons for the turnaround this season but it most assuredly wouldn’t have happened if the mood didn’t stay positive through the hard times. Now that they’re in a position to qualify for the playoffs, they’ve noticeably gained even more confidence heading into the close of the season and will go to Crew Stadium looking for a season sweep on Saturday.
CS: New DP Juan Luis Ananganó bagged his first goal for the Fire last week against New England. How has he changed the dynamic of the club’s attack?
JC: Though he is a Designated Player, Anangono was purposely not billed as someone that would come in and be a significant contributor right away. He is a strong target striker that has a lot of work ethic but as we see with many foreign players coming to MLS for the first time, an adjustment period is needed.
He showed flashes in games before but his 30th minute equalizer in Saturday’s win over New England was huge for a Fire team that had once again conceded early in a match. Though he may have been offside on the second equalizer through Mike Magee, his shielding the defender was what gave the Fire’s leading scorer an easy conversion.
Anangono’s transition to the Fire and MLS isn’t complete but his recent performances now give head coach Frank Klopas the most variety he’s had all season up top and allows the manager to be more unpredictable with his lineups at the close of the season.
CS: Since the Fire’s first season in 1998, the rivalry with the Crew has been one of the best in MLS. What is the general feeling of this rivalry among the Chicago supporters compared to other rivalries?
JC: In my view, (and I may be biased because I’m a Wolverine) the rivalry with the Crew is the best the Fire currently have. Last season 600 supporters went to Crew Stadium and the year before about 400 attended. Hands down, the visit(s) to Crew Stadium are one of the first games Fire supporters circle on their calendars when the schedule is released every year.
Games against the Crew mean a lot to Klopas as well as Crew Stadium was the site of his first win as interim head coach back on June 12, 2011 and it was him that scored the Golden Goal winner against Columbus in the 1998 U.S. Open Cup final at Soldier Field.
In the locker room, Ohioans Chris Rolfe and Austin Berry especially get up for games vs. “The Massive” but throughout the team, whether players are new or haven't been around too long, its known that matches vs. the Crew are big and usually very intense.
With both teams pushing for the playoffs and former players on both sides of the divide, I expect no less on Saturday.
Jeff Crandall: The Crew looked destined to miss the playoffs again this season but the move of Brian Bliss downstairs as interim head coach has seen the team win two of its last three matches. What has changed since he took over the dressing room?
Cody Sharrett: With the coaching change, I think some players felt they had something to prove and re-earn their spots in the lineup. Bliss has brought more accountability to the club with his tell-like-it-is, yet positive approach. Training sessions are definitely more vocal and the players seem to be responding to Bliss’ style.
Even in the 3-0 loss at Kansas City, Tchani was one of the few bright spots for the Crew. Wahl, on the other hand, brings veteran presence to the backline alongside stalwart Chad Marshall. Aside from one slip up that led to a Marco Di Vaio goal, Wahl paired well with Marshall in his first match of the season at centerback.The change has also helped guys who had maybe fallen out of favor with Robert Warzycha earn new opportunities on the field. Since the coaching change, both Tony Tchani and Tyson Wahl have seen their minutes increase. Tchani has brought a physical presence to central midfield and was key in the wins against Houston and Montreal.
JC: The Fire dealt Dominic Oduro to the Crew in a January trade that brought Dilly Duka and eventually Mike Magee to Chicago. Dom just scored his 10th goal of the season for the Crew last weekend, how has he helped the Columbus attack improve this year?
CS: Oduro’s speed has definitely added a different dimension to the Crew attack that just hasn’t been there in the past. Federico Higuaín leads MLS with 44 attempted through balls this season, and with Oduro’s pace, can you blame him? When the two have connected, it’s been a work of art as evidenced by Oduro’s goals in Toronto earlier in the season and last week in Montreal.
A pleasant surprise in Oduro’s game for Crew fans has been his ability to make defenses pay for mistakes, thus coining the term “Grand Theft Oduro.” Teams have been more hesitant playing out of the back due to Oduro’s ability to pounce on miscues.
Leading the team with 10 goals this season, Oduro has been a breath of fresh air for the Black & Gold.
JC: The Crew have little margin for error in remaining matches if they hope to qualify for the playoffs. With backs against the wall, what is the mood and spirit like going into Saturday’s game vs. the Fire?
CS: The locker room has been positive, especially since the win at Montreal. The Crew knows it needs help from other results, but also realizes it most likely needs to win-out to ensure a playoff spot. With four of the five remaining matches coming against Eastern Conference opponents, the points are there for the taking.
Despite a come-from-behind-road win against the Eastern Conference-leading Montreal Impact on Saturday, the Crew saw little movement in this week's power rankings across multiple national media outlets. The Black & Gold were idle at number 16 in Sports Illustrated and ESPNFC's rankings, but did move up three spots to 14th in MLSSoccer.com's poll.
SI.com: 16 (16)
ESPNFC: 16 (16)
MLSSoccer.com: 14 (17)
Where do YOU think the Black & Gold rank? Comment below.
Wednesday marks the 35th anniversary of Jungle Jack Hanna's tenure as Director Emeritus at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. For the past 35 years, Jungle Jack has been an outstanding international ambassador for the Central Ohio community with his passion and dedication to the animal kingdom.
From Crew Soccer Nation: Happy Hannaversary, Jungle Jack!
After upsetting the first-place Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo over the weekend, the Crew's Matt Lampson and Federico Higuaín have earned MLSSoccer.com Team of the Week honors for Week 29. In net, Lampson made six saves to help his team to victory and his first-ever Team of the Week nod. On the attacking end, Higuaín set up each of the Black & Gold's tallies in the 2-1 win for his seventh and eighth assists this season. The Argentine's performance earned him a spot in MLSSoccer.com's weekly Best XI for the fourth time in 2013.
The Black & Gold will host the Chicago Fire in the fourth meeting in MLS and U.S. Open Cup play this season between the two Midwestern rivals on Saturday night at Crew Stadium (TICKETS) in a match with major playoff implications. Having fallen by a single goal to the Fire in each of the previous three matches with the Fire in 2013, the Crew will look to learn from past mistakes on Saturday as it looks to keep playoff hope alive.
Here is a look back at the June 22 clash with Chicago at Crew Stadium.
Federico Higuaín put the Crew on top early, converting a penalty in the seventh minute after Dominic Oduro was taken down in the box by Chicago 'keeper Sean Johnson. But after the halftime break, former Black & Gold winger Dilly Duka equalized for the Men in Red in the 52nd minute to shift the momentum for the visitors. Two minutes later, Fire forward Mike Magee netted the winner on a chested tally from Joel Lindpere's service. Though the Crew put nine shots on target, the home side was unable to find an equalizer in the final half hour of the match.