Fire-Crew Preview

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Caleb Porter still has the belief that the Columbus Crew can make the postseason, even though the reigning MLS Cup champions need a lot to go their way on Decision Day.

Columbus host the Chicago Fire on Sunday, with two wins on the bounce having kept their slim playoff hopes alive.

The Crew sit 10th in the Eastern Conference. They must beat 12th-place Chicago and hope the New York Red Bulls lose against Nashville SC and CF Montreal and D.C. United both fail to win their games.

Columbus will also need to finish on an improved goal difference compared to the Red Bulls, which would require an eight-goal swing.

Their hopes may be fading, but Porter still believes.

“We have a bunch of guys who believe, believe in our quality, believe that we can be in the playoffs and expect to be there,” Porter said after last week’s win over D.C.

“We have performed extremely well. Obviously we’re cutting it close. But we’re healthy, we’re flying, we’re in form and we’re peaking. I think it’s in the cards. I believe.”

It has been a difficult season for Chicago, who parted ways with coach Raphael Wicky due to the poor results.

“It’s never a good feeling when the season ends, you’ve put so much into it and there’s nothing to play for,” said interim coach Frank Klopas.

“I also know some of the players will be going their separate ways, so there’s an emotion there. I’ve told the guys they will be a par of the Fire family forever.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Columbus Crew – Lucas Zelarayan

Lucas Zelarayan has scored eight goals from outside the box this season, the most by any player since Sebastian Giovinco in 2017 (9, including playoffs). Zelarayan has scored more goals from outside the box than 21 different teams this season.

Chicago Fire – Robert Beric

Robert Beric has followed up a 12-goal first season in MLS with eight strikes this term. The forward is in good form, having netted four times in October, and he will be looking to end his campaign on a high note.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– Columbus is unbeaten in 11 straight home matches against the Fire (W8 D3) dating back to a June 2013 loss. The Crew have won the last two home matches against Chicago, though they’ve never won three in a row at home against the Fire.

– The Crew have won consecutive matches for the first time since a three-match winning streak in May-June. The third win in that streak was a home victory over the Fire.

– The Fire have missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season and the tenth time in the last 12 years (since 2010).

– In Chicago’s first 12 MLS seasons (1998-2009), they failed to qualify for the playoffs only once (2004).

– Chicago is the only team that has not won a penalty this season. The last team to play a full season (excluding the shortened 2020 season) without winning a penalty in MLS was the Union in 2013.

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