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Columbus Crew SC vs. Chicago Fire | 2017 MLS Match Preview

Columbus Crew SC vs. Chicago Fire
MLS regular season
MAPFRE Stadium – Columbus, Ohio
Saturday, March 4 – 2 pm ET

WATCH: MLS LIVE (local blackouts apply); 
CSN-Chicago; Spectrum Sports OH; BCSN2; ABC 6

Two long-running Midwest rivals tangle again on the opening weekend of the 2017 Major League Soccer season, as the new-look Chicago Fire travel southeast to visit Columbus Crew SC on Saturday afternoon.

After disappointing 2016 campaigns, both of these sides are eager to get off to a strong start on opening day. Recent trends, however, favor Crew SC, who have won in four of the Fire’s last five visits to Central Ohio. Weather forecasts predict temperatures in the 30s and a chance of snow, so MAPFRE Stadium staff may roll out adidas’ high-visibility orange balls for this one.


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All-Time Series

The Fire lead the all-time league series with Columbus, holding a 24-17-17 record against Crew SC. Though Chicago haven’t beaten Crew SC in league play since June of 2013, they have a history of decent results at MAPFRE, having won 10 times and earned seven draws in 28 all-time league visits – leading some of their fans to dub the venue “Firehouse East.”

CLB-CHI All-Time Meetings (58 matches since June 6, 1998):

  • at Chicago (30 meetings): Fire lead 14-6-10 (46-36 in goals)
  • at Columbus (28 meetings): Crew lead 11-10-7 (51-37 in goals)

Referees

Referee: Fotis Bazakos
Assistant Referees: Danny Thornberry (bench side), Kevin Klinger (far side)
Fourth Official: Sorin Stoica

Columbus Crew SC

After falling narrowly, agonizingly short of winning MLS Cup on home soil in 2015, Gregg Berhalter’s side slumped badly last year, joining a select group of teams which have failed to reach the playoffs the season after playing in the league championship.

In response, Crew SC made nearly as many changes to their squad as did the last-place Fire, though the core of the side remains. The Black-and-Gold will look to Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain, wingers Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay – and striker Ola Kamara, who scored 16 goals in 25 appearances after his arrival last season. Columbus carry some momentum into opening day after winning the Carolina Challenge Cup preseason tournament last week. 

  • Suspended: None
  • Int’l Duty: Cristian Martinez (Panama U-20s)
  • Injury Report: Gaston Sauro (knee injury, out for season), Waylon Francis (right shoulder surgery), Abuchi Obinwa (left thigh strain), Ola Kamara (concussion symptoms)

Projected starting XI (4-2-3-1): Zack Steffen — Waylon Francis, Nico Naess, Jonathan Mensah, Harrison Afful — Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp — Justin Meram, Federico Higuain, Ethan Finlay — Ola Kamara

Notes: The offseason departure of Steve Clark has opened up Crew SC’s No. 1 goalkeeping role, with US youth international Zack Steffen competing with Brad Stuver for the starting nod … Berhalter has hinted at the use of a three-man back line, and Crew SC may use a 3-4-3 look when chasing games. But for now they look set to keep faith in the width-oriented 4-2-3-1 that prospered in 2015 … Winter signings Artur, Jukka Raitala and Mohammed Abu were signed to vie for starting roles but all are new to MLS and may be given time to adapt.

Chicago Fire

Chicago have made dramatic changes to their roster this winter (nine players in, nine out) after two consecutive last-place finishes in the Eastern Conference, headlined by moves for midfielders Dax McCarty and Juninho and the signing of prolific finisher Nemanja Nikolic as a Designated Player.

The Men in Red showed promise in racking up a 6-0 record in preseason matches, including 4-1 wins over East counterparts the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC. But the real work starts Saturday. Coach Veljko Paunovic and general manager Nelson Rodriguez have confessed to feeling keen pressure to qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2017, something the Fire have done just once this decade.

  • Suspended: Juninho (Pre-Existing Suspension)
  • Int’l Duty: None
  • Injury Report: Matt Polster (right knee strain), Matt Lampson (left knee sprain)

Projected starting XI (4-4-2): Jorge Bava — Brandon Vincent, Jonathan Campbell, Johan Kappelhof, Michael Harrington – David Accam, Dax McCarty, Joao Meira, Arturo Alvarez – Michael De Leeuw, Nemanja Nikolic

Notes: Thus far in preseason Paunovic has leaned towards a 4-4-2 shape that often trends towards a 4-4-1-1 given De Leeuw’s instincts to drop deep and roam; wide men David Accam and Arturo Alvarez are both comfortable on either flank and may switch at will … The Fire have the room, resources and desire to make further roster moves; veteran English fullback Ryan Taylor is in town on trial at present. GM Nelson Rodriguez said this week that Chicago have “the latitude, the cap space, the budget space and the resources” to sign a third Designated Player alongside Accam and Nikolic if the circumstances are right.

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Season Stats

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