MLSsoccer.com's Dan Haiek and Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle preview the Eastern Conference clash between the Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire. Will Federico Higuain lead the Crew to another multi-goal game? Is Mike Magee on the verge of returning to MVP form?
HOME SWEET HOME
Saturday’s match marks the Crew’s fifth contest of May and just the second this month at Crew Stadium ... the team snapped a three-match losing streak last Saturday at Portland with a 3-3 draw ... the Black & Gold have a final road match of May at Toronto FC on May 31.
FINDING THE BACK OF THE NET
After being held scoreless for three matches to open the month, the Crew responded with a trio of tallies last Saturday in Portland ... it was the club’s second three-goal performance of the season ... the Black & Gold have secured points in both three-goal matches thus far in 2014 after a 3-0 win to open the year at D.C. United.
STARTING A NEW STREAK AGAINST THE FIRE
The Crew’s 3-0 win against Chicago when the two teams last met on September 2013 snapped a four-match losing streak against the Fire ... although Chicago has had the Crew’s number in six of the last eight overall regular-season meetings (6-2-0), the Black & Gold have been solid at home against their rivals, securing points in five of the last seven meetings at Crew Stadium (3-2-2) dating back to 2008 ... Chicago has been held to one goal or fewer in four of the last five meetings at Crew Stadium dating back to 2010.
LOTS OF ONE-GOAL GAMES CREW-FIRE TILTS OF LATE
Seven of the last eight regular-season meetings between the longtime rivals have resulted in one-goal matches, providing plenty of drama in regular-season play ... Chicago is 6-2-0 in the current span, with the Black & Gold securting a 2-1 win on May 26, 2012 at Crew Stadium and the lone multiple-goal margin, a 3-0 win when the teams last met on September 21, 2013 in Columbus.
Fresh off the heels of scoring against his most recent former team, the Chicago Fire, Crew forward Dominic Oduro is set to square-off against another one of his old clubs, FC Dallas, on Sunday. Here is a look at how the journeyman forward has fared against his past teammates throughout his career.
|Club||Career Matches Since Departing Club||Goals||Assists|
|New York Red Bulls||9||2*||1|
*Oduro has recorded one goal vs. NYRB, one assist vs. Houston Dynamo and one goal vs. Chicago Fire in 2013 with the Crew
^MLS matches only
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.
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.
For the third time in 2013, the Crew faces the Fire on Saturday (8:00 p.m. ET / FOX Sports Ohio) in a crucial Eastern Conference matchup. Looking ahead to the weekend, let's revisit the rivals' previous two meeting this season at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill.
Andy Gruenebaum made a season-high six saves to help keep the Black & Gold in the match, but an 83rd-minute Jeff Larentowicz tally was the deciding factor in the Crew's defeat to the Fire back in April. The Black & Gold were unable to muster a single shot on frame in the loss.
The Crew fought through losing defensive anchor Gláuber in the sixth minute to a torn left ACL to find the opening goal of the match via the head of midfielder Konrad Warzycha in the 22nd minute. Though the Black & Gold maintained most of the possession and dictated the tempo in the first half, the Fire was able to equalize six minutes later and eventually found the winner in the 79th minute on a goal scored by Patrick Nyarko to knock the Crew out of Open Cup play.
MLSSoccer.com's Dan Haiek and Matt Doyle breakdown this weekend's matchup between the Crew and Fire, highlighting Ben Speas as a player to watch in the Black & Gold attack.