After a dramatic later winner against New England, the Men in Red head to Firehouse East (#FHEAST) Saturday night to face a surging Columbus team (LIVE 6pm CT on My50). Since relieving coach Robert Warzycha of his duties and replacing him with Technical Director Brian Bliss, the Crew have won two of three and remain in the MLS Cup playoff hunt.
The Columbus hierarchy are calling this match a six-pointer and I tend to agree. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Sticking tight to Dominic Oduro – regardless of what position he plays in
In my last preview of a Fire vs. Columbus match, I heaped praise on Oduro and since then, the Ghanaian has continued to put in good performances.
Many in Columbus called for Oduro to be played up top and for the first two games under Brian Bliss this happened but last weekend the ex-Fire man moved to the right wing, making room for Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta to take their places in the middle of the attack.
In truth, Oduro is difficult to contain in either position.
On the wing, his pace forces the outside defenders to be on their guard and not stray too far forward. Hiss crossing is also dangerous -- he looks to get the ball in the box as early as possible, oftentimes playing it low to the ground, bending it around the defenders. These sort of balls are a nightmare to defend and limiting Oduro’s space to cross will be important.
Oduro’s runs also make him a difficult player to mark when he plays up top. In the Crew’s last match against Montreal, he made a brilliant run into the box to get on the end of a sublime through ball from Federico Higuain and score the winner.
It will be an added incentive for the Fire defenders to keep their former teammate off the score sheet on Saturday night.
The midfield battle – Will Trap and Tony Tchani vs Jeff Larentowicz and Arevalo Rios
In just a few matches together, Jeff Larentowicz and Arevalo Rios have formed quite a formidable partnership in the center of midfield.
In the Crew’s last match against the Impact, Will Trapp continued to start, this time alongside Tony Tchani. This partnership is similar to the Fire’s, with one player advancing to help the attack while the other sits.
Tchani particularly caught the eye, bringing a physical presence that was lacking to the Crew’s midfield. The Cameroonian has surprisingly good foot skills for a burly 6’4’’ midfielder and is equally comfortable playing through balls from deep or driving forward with the ball.
The battle between the two sets of central midfielders will be very interesting to watch, with both trying to catch the other out.
The Fire’s central pair must continue to stay disciplined and not be caught in a situation where both are too far forward. The Fire’s midfield tandem certainly have the edge in experience and I expect them to display that against the younger pair.
Focusing the attacks down the Columbus left – targeting Tyson Wahl and co.
In the first two matches under Brian Bliss, Tyson Wahl returned at left back for the Crew, after sitting out the end of Warzycha’s reign. Wahl didn’t have the best of games in the first two outings of the Bliss era before moving to center back for last week’s match against Montreal.
It remains to be seen what position he starts in on Saturday night but in any case, the left side of defense is certainly a weak link for the Crew and one the Fire should look to exploit.
In the Montreal game, former Fire winger Justin Mapp caused the Crew all sorts of problems from his wide right position. After strong performances for Alex, Patrick Nyarko, Joel Lindpere and Dilly Duka in recent weeks, picking two of the four to occupy the wide positions will be a tough decision for Frank Klopas.
I look for Jalil Anibaba to get forward at every opportunity to support the starting right winger and extend the Crew’s defensive woes on the left hand side for another match.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Jalil Anibaba and Chris Rolfe.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com.