|Matchup||Chicago Fire (6-15-9, 27 pts.) at Columbus Crew (7-12-11, 32 pts.)|
|Date||Saturday, October 1 • 6:30 p.m. CT|
|Location||Columbus, Ohio • MAPFRE Stadium|
|TV||CSN Chicago Plus (Pregame Coverage: 6 p.m.)|
|Radio (Spanish)||97.5 FM Poder|
The Chicago Fire will look to make their first and only 2016 trip to Columbus a successful one when they take the field against Crew SC Saturday night. Coverage of the match begins at 6 p.m. CT on CSN Chicago Plus with kickoff to follow at 6:30. The Fire will be looking to keep their tidy season record against the Crew clean this weekend, having already picked up a draw and a win against their Eastern Conference rivals this season. Here are five factors that could shape the outcome of their third meeting on Saturday:
On the Road Again
The Fire have an opportunity to end their nine-day, three-match road trip with a win in the home of one of their most longstanding rivals. The time away from home hasn’t been kind to the Men In Red, having most recently fallen 1-0 in Seattle Wednesday and remaining in search of a second road victory in 2016. The match marked the first time the Fire had been shutout since July, a string of 10 straight matches. Crew SC will be looking to make amends for their most recent result in this one as well. A mid-week trip to the nation’s capital resulted in head coach Gregg Berhalter’s side being upended by D.C. United, 3-0. The defending Eastern Conference-champion Crew SC resides one spot and five points above the Fire in the table.
Familiar but not friendly
Saturday’s match marks the third time these two teams will have seen each other in 2016, and they’ll prepare for an immediate fourth meeting in the next round of MLS play. A 0-0 draw at Toyota Park in mid-March was followed by a second meeting in Bridgeview during U.S. Open Cup play in June, where David Accam's brace led the Men In Red to a 2-1 victory. Results aside and despite the likely absence of Federico Higuain, Columbus still boasts a talented roster with Ola Kamara (15 goals), Ethan Finlay (6 goals, 8 assists) and Justin Meram leading the way in the attack. Prior to the disappointing showing vs. D.C., Columbus had recorded wins over fellow playoff aspirants New England (2-0) and Orlando City SC (4-1), making clear the quality they still possess.
Halves and Half-Nots?
Among other factors, one of the contributing keys behind Columbus’ post-MLS Cup final hangover has been their inability to close matches out in the second halves of games. Most recently, Crew SC were undone by D.C. United with three goals after the 70th minute, which echoes what has been a trend all season. Columbus boasts the league’s fourth-highest first half goal differential (+8), having allowed only 12 first half goals – MLS’ second-lowest count. However, the numbers are much less kind after halftime. Columbus have given up far-and-away the most second half goals in MLS with a total of 37, a staggering 20 of which have come in the 75th minute or later. Their second half goal differential of -15 is an MLS low as well. The Fire, who also have struggled at times to see out a match, will want to close Saturday's contest on a high note.
Pride on the Line
The fact that the Men In Red saw their playoff hopes officially dashed Wednesday night, coupled with Crew SC's need of a near-perfect finish for any shot to land above the red line, means the two sides will draw on alternate sources of motivation Saturday night. For Columbus, the match marks their last of 2016 in front of the home crowd, and there's little doubt they'd prefer to wrap up a disappointing home season with three points against their rival. On the other side, the Fire can play the role of spoiler and likely extinguish Columbus' last-gasp playoff push, while also pleasing a large traveling contingent of Fire supporters planning to make the day-long round-trip from Chicago for an invasion of "Firehouse East."
The Fire hold the edge in the all-time series with a record of 24-16-16 dating back to 1998. Chicago is 10-9-7 in matches played at MAPFRE Stadium (formerly Columbus Crew Stadium) since the club’s inception as well. Two members of the Fire first team will be making returns to the place where their respective MLS careers started. Defender Eric Gehrig plied his trade in Columbus from 2011-14, while goalkeeper Matt Lampson was a member of Crew SC from 2012-15.