Match Preview: Chicago Fire vs Columbus Crew

by - Staff Writer -
Fire hope to get the W tonight (Jasen Vinlove - USA Today Sports)
Fire hope to get the W tonight (Jasen Vinlove - USA Today Sports)

It has been a month since the Chicago last played a game where they were eliminated from the MLS is back tournament in Orlando. That is about to change as the Fire return to action for phase one of their return to play action tonight in Columbus.

After MLS announced that the season would resume on August 12, teams were informed that they would be playing 18 additional games health permitted. Phase one of the 18 games pegs each team with six games through the end of September. This will be the first of those six phase one matches for the Fire as they hit the road to take on the Crew.

For the first time since March 1, the Crew will be at home, which is extremely happy. Columbus was hoping for limited fans for this game, but they will roll with the punches and play this game with an empty stadium. Through five games this season, these teams are heading in opposite directions with the Crew leading the entire eastern conference with 13 points and the Fire are in 12th with four.

At (4-0-1), the Crew leads the MLS in points with 13 thanks mainly in part to their strong showing during the MLS is back tournament. The Fire may be just (1-3-1) on the season, but they have been so close to going 3-2 to start the year. Had a bounce gone C.J. Sapong's way against Vancouver in their final game of the MLS is back tournament, the Fire would have advanced to the knockout round where anything could have happened.

For the Fire to know off the Crew, they will have to score more goals, which the Fire has struggled with thus far. Through five games, they have registered four goals, so improvements must be made. However, that will not be easy in this one as the Crew recorded three straight shutouts in the group stage of the MLS is back tournament before losing to Minnesota in the knockout round.

Another thing to watch for is the backline of the Fire defense, which has become accustomed to allowing late-game goals to take winning results and turn them into draws, and tie games and turn them into defeats. The defense will need to step up in a big way now as starting goalie Kenneth Kronholm underwent surgery on August 11 to repair a torn ACL and will be done for the year. Stepping into the number one role now will be Bobby Shuttleworth.

Chicago Fire defender Jonathan Borstein feels that the MLS is back tournament helped prepare this team for the rest of the season.

"The tournament helped prepare us for the rest of the season," Bornstein said. "More than anything, we learned from our downfalls. We had some good moments, but we had some bad moments also. "We have to grow as a team. We can only go forward with high hopes."

Chicago will get a massive boost on the pitch as Michael Azira returns from an injury that kept him out of the MLS is back tournament. He will play a considerable role and certainly will be a stabilizing factor both offensively and defensively.

For Columbus, they are dealing with their fair share of injuries, also as goalie Eloy Room and Midfielder Youness Mokhtar took some bumps and bruises. With their last game July 28, the two men have had plenty of time to heal and should play a prominent role for the Crew the rest of the way.

Columbus leads the all-time series between the two sides at home 13-10-9 but has dominated them in the scoring department 59 goals to the Fire having just 40. In 66 meetings all-time between the sides, the Fire hold the advantage 26-19-21 but still trail in the goal's category 91-98. Kick-off is set for 6:30 CDT and can be seen on Fox Sports Ohio and ESPN Plus.

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