Prime Your Fire Pump: Chicago at Columbus Crew

Old School.

Old School.

OTF Editor Scott Fenwick and Helltown Beer’s Larry W. Johnson bring you 2013’s third edition of Fire vs. Crew… 

Despite periodic mental breakdowns and stretches of undisciplined play versus the Rapids on Wednesday night, Lady Luck led the Fire to a 2-1 victory over Colorado at Toyota Park, a nail-biter that extended Chicago’s unbeaten streak to six across all competitions.

“Magic” Mike Magee netted yet another goal for Chicago, a nifty, first-half PK conversion that marked his fifth in as many games since donning Fire red. With nine MLS goals, Magee now finds himself second in MLS’s Golden Boot race.

Now, the Men in Red face fixtures at Columbus tonight and versus Orlando City next Wednesday.

Chicago is in the midst of a three-game stretch in a mere seven days. As such, we’ll see how Frank Klopas’s roster decisions reveal his priorities.

What is more important right now: a road win at the Crew, a fellow middling Eastern Conference foe who the Fire trail by five points (with a game in hand), or a single-elimination U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal battle at home versus tournament darlings Orlando City, the third division (USL Pro) side who achieved the improbable by shutting out 2012 Cup champs Sporting Kansas City on the road?

Will this man, along with his fellow starters, get some needed rest tonight? (photo: chicago-fire.com)

Will this man, along with his fellow starters, get some needed rest tonight? (photo: chicago-fire.com)

Solely looking at the Fire’s current one-week obligations, Saturday night’s match at Columbus is perplexing. After sending out a full-strength squad to gain the victory at home three days ago vs. Colorado, how can Frank Klopas possibly do the same tonight if he wants to give his club its best shot at winning its next one?

Chicago Fire is winless on the road thus far in 2013 (0-4-2), while Columbus is a tepid 2-2-3 inside the yellow confines of Crew Stadium. All-time though, the Men in Red hold the advantage in Columbus at 9-7-6.

Dating back to June 2013, Chicago is 4-0 across all competitions versus the Crew, winning all four matches at Toyota Park by a one-goal margin. That said, Columbus will look to do everything it can to stop its slide and beat its bitter rival in front of its home crowd tonight.

READ: Know Your Enemy – Columbus Crew #2

It’s likely Chicago will have to expend a lot of energy to get a result at Crew Stadium, a place where Columbus shut out Eastern Conference leaders Montreal last weekend, 2-0. With a week’s rest behind them and another week’s rest ahead, and after already losing twice to the Fire this year, there’s little doubt the Crew will field a hungry choice XI on Saturday night.

In the end, if the Fire are to solidify their claim as “Kings of the Cup” this year, Klopas should field a (mostly) reserve squad tonight and rest his starters for next Wednesday.

Moreover, given the context, even a full-strength Fire squad could probably expect no more than a point tonight. So why not roll the dice with bench players vs. Columbus and wake up on Sunday morning with your eyes fixed on a coveted prize: a record fifth trophy in the U.S. Open Cup tournament and a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League?

Starting XI, Tactics, & Bench

Here’s my “We want to win the U.S. Open Cup at all costs” starting XI for the Fire at Columbus on Saturday night. And no, I’m not drunk:

What the hell, why not?

Why the hell not?

See how not having enough reserve right and center backs makes this, on its face, look a bit nutty? That said, I think it’s worth a try.

The bench would be: Kann, Amarikwa, King, Duka, Rolfe, Paladini, Anibaba. So, this scheme would guarantee needed rest at home for: Magee, Soumare, Berry, Segares, Nyarko, Alex, and Johnson. 

Then, at home on Wednesday night, Klopas would be able to confidently play for a semifinal berth at Toyota Park by unleashing his hounds on the Lions from Orlando City:

Attack!

Attack!

Bench vs. Orlando City: Tornaghi, Pause, Larentowicz, Jumper, Santos, MacDonald, Lindpere.

Then, on to the next one: a semifinal tussle at Toyota Park versus either New England Revolution or D.C. United.

On The Crew with Helltown Beer

Most here in Columbus realize that last weekend’s result against league-leading Montreal might have been a case of catching a good team on a bad day (and coming off an extended break). The Crew was just an average team that got lucky, as the sports cliché goes.

Even local beat writer Adam Jardy (Columbus Dispatch) joined in the chorus of ‘meh’ with his recent headline: “Odds are stacked against Crew reaching playoffs.” Not exactly something the club wants to hear with more than half the season left.

Truth be told, a good deal of the malaise in Columbus comes from the two losses the Crew suffered at Toyota Park this year.

Get your nose plugs ready Fire fans. They're comin'... (Photo: theendline.com)

Massive. (Photo: theendline.com)

Chicago fans who caught the midday U.S. Open Cup match against Columbus may remember that starting Brazilian CB Glauber landed awkwardly and tore his ACL in the opening minutes. This opened the door for a move that most Crew fans had been calling for: Josh Williams’s return to center back after a long stint at right back.

Williams naturally fits into the middle, and alongside Chad Marshall the two make it difficult for any opponent to score. If the Crew sticks with these two in the middle of the back line, they have a good shot at keeping the Fire off the scoreboard and will put themselves in a position to win.

READ: Trash Talk Fridays – Fire at Crew

Things have been a little tense here in town. Many are calling for Coach Robert Warzycha’s head and the supporters groups are tossing pink slips in the air at the start of games.

As usual, tonight should be a good one, but if Columbus manages to lose this match (in front of a larger crowd waiting for fireworks, FYI) then it would not be surprising see the Crew drop into oblivion, and the Fire leapfrog its rival into the race for the final playoff spot with New England and Philadelphia.

Larry W. Johnson writes about the Crew at SB Nation’s Massive Report, and is boss man at the Columbus soccer blog Helltown Beer. Follow Larry @HelltownBeer

Chicago Fire at Columbus Crew
Saturday, June 22nd at 7:00pm cst
Live TV broadcast on Chicago’s MY50
La radio en Español: La Ley 107.9 FM en Chicago

#cf97 Nation

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