The Chicago Fire will be looking to play the role of party-poopers when they take on the Columbus Crew in the final match to be played at Historic Crew Stadium.
The ground has provided Crew supporters with many fond memories, not least last year’s 3-0 triumph over the Seattle Sounders in the MLS Cup final, but they will move to a new 20,000-seater stadium in two weeks’ time.
Caleb Porter’s side will be backed by a full capacity as it seeks a third win in a row, having defeated New York City FC and Toronto FC before the three-week hiatus.
However, rather than seeing it as a disadvantage playing in front of a packed home crowd, Fire head coach Raphael Wicky is relishing the occasion.
“It doesn’t add any extra difficulties,” he said. “We’re playing against the champions in their stadium. To have full capacity is also great for us. It will be a tough game but we know that on a good day we can take points off any team, as we’ve proven over the past year.
“To play more than 20 games last year with no fans and atmosphere, it’s great to have fans back. We’re really looking forward to having as many people as possible there.”The Fire have lost five of their seven league games this season, most recently going down 1-0 to CF Montreal, but Porter is taking nothing for granted this weekend.
“I look at the way Chicago play and press, the way they play out and how organized they are,” he said. “They are a talented team that can beat anyone in the league. We will have to be hungry and play well on the day. It’s as simple as that.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Columbus Crew – Darlington Nagbe
Containing central midfielder Nagbe could be the key to the Fire taking anything from this game. The 30-year-old, who has started six of his side’s seven MLS games this term, is great at keeping hold of the ball and is happy for the more attack-minded players around him to grab the headlines.
Chicago Fire – Robert Beric
Wicky will be without Przemyslaw Frankowski and Gaston Gimenez for the foreseeable future as both players are away on international duty, but there are others in the squad who can step up. Beric is expected to lead the line for the visitors and, while he has not made the strongest of starts to the season – just one goal in seven matches – the Slovenia international will surely find his shooting boots sooner rather than later.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– The Crew are unbeaten in their last 10 home games against Chicago (W7 D3) dating back to a 2-1 Chicago win in 2013. Chicago’s only longer road winless run against a single team came against Dallas from 1999 to 2008 (11 regular season, 14 including playoffs).
– Including last season’s playoffs, Columbus has won 16 of its 18 matches at Historic Crew Stadium since the start of last season (D1 L1). The Crew have won nine of their last 10 at home, only drawing with Philadelphia Union in the opening game of the 2021 season.
– The Fire are winless in all 14 away matches since the start of the 2020 season (D5 L9). It’s the longest active winless run away from home in MLS and equals the third-longest in Fire history (also 14 straight in 2004-05).
– The Crew have attempted an MLS-low 8.4 shots per match this season, with just 4.4 of those coming inside the box, which is also the fewest in MLS. Just 52.5 percent of the Crew’s shots this season have been attempted inside the box, the lowest percentage in MLS.
– The last three goals Chicago has conceded have all been headers. They’ve conceded four headed goals this season, only CF Montreal (five) has allowed more. The Fire and Crew are two of eight teams that have not scored a headed goal this season.