Columbus Crew vs. Chicago Fire: MLS Matchday 3 Preview

Following their thrilling last-minute victory against the Houston Dynamo in the Concacaf Champions Cup on Wednesday, the Columbus Crew is back in action for gameday No.3 in the MLS on Saturday night as they welcome Chicago Fire to Field.

Mar 6, 2024; Houston, TX, USA; Columbus Crew midfielder Alexandru Matan (20) high fives teammates
Mar 6, 2024; Houston, TX, USA; Columbus Crew midfielder Alexandru Matan (20) high fives teammates / Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

The Black and Gold are back in action this weekend at Field as they welcome Chicago Fire for another round of the 2023-24 MLS campaign, and this time under the floodlights for the first time this season. Starting their season on a positive note, the home side secured a 1-0 victory over Atlanta United. In their most recent league match, they drew 1-1 against Minnesota United before clinching a late 1-0 win over Houston Dynamo in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions Cup last-16 tie on Wednesday. Currently occupying fifth place in the Eastern Conference with four points from a possible six, the Columbus Crew aim to bolster their standing this Saturday.

A look at the visitors

Chicago Fire has yet to find their rhythm this season, starting with a 2-2 draw against Philadelphia Union in their league opener last month. They suffered a defeat on home turf against FC Cincinnati in their second match, managing just one shot on target throughout the game. Currently positioned 11th in the Eastern Conference with only one point, the visitors aim to secure their first win of the season in this weekend's encounter.

In their recent MLS fixture against Cincinnati, they fell short with a 1-2 loss, leaving them with just one point in the standings. Consequently, as they face the Crew, Chicago Fire must strive for victory to climb the league table, as their current position does not bode well for their season aspirations. It is also worth noting that pivotal Chicago players like Brian Gutierrez, Fabian Herbers, and Xherdan Shaqiri have all contributed with a goal each, along with one assist each from all three players - looking pretty good from an individual standpoint.

Injury news

Alex Matan picked up a thigh injury and is listed out for the match against Chicago, and apart from that, it looks to be a fully fit squad for Columbus. Despite Mo Farsi's injury scare against Minnesota, the former Capy made it to the first XI in Houston and seems ready for action once more. Will Sands, on the other hand, remains on the bench under Wilfried Nancy's guidance, which is likely due to precaution, given our strong bench options. It's important for Sands to fully recover from his ACL injury before being called upon.

Chicago are less fortunate and is dealing with quite a few issues, such as left wingback Andrew Gutman picking up an injury on opening matchday.

Columbus needs to be more clinical

In their two MLS regular-season games and one CONCACAF Champions Cup match, the reigning MLS Cup champions have managed to score three goals from 15 shots on target. Additionally, in these games, including the team’s 1-0 win against the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday in the CONCACAF Champions Cup, the Crew have taken a total of 47 shots.

The opportunities have mostly arisen from one player. Hernandez has scored two of the Crew’s three goals. Additionally, he has taken seven of the team’s 15 shots on target and accounts for nearly 45% of the team’s total shots despite playing only 225 out of the team’s 270 total minutes.

"If we watch the game, we have many chances, so it’s [goals] going to come."

Wilfried Nancy on the offense output

There is an element of luck involved, as seen in the Crew’s previous match when Marino Hinestroza missed an open goal with the keeper beaten (albeit from an outrageous distance), Diego Rossi struck the post with a shot saved by Dynamo goalkeeper Steve Clark, and a Christian Ramirez goal that was called back for a narrow offside call. However what we can say is Columbus has been defensively solid this year with that late Minnesota goal being the only goal they’ve conceded so far this season.

What to expect

It's evident that Wilfried Nancy has a clear vision for his team's style of play this season, favoring the 3-4-3 formation, which has yielded the best results for them so far. If they can maintain such consistency, they will pose a formidable challenge for their opponents.

The Columbus Crew's ability to maintain a compact shape and frustrate the opposition has been their strongest asset. In matches against Atlanta United and Minnesota United, the opposition managed to create only one big chance each due to the structured approach of the Columbus Crew, resulting in a commendable defensive record. However, one area Wilfried Nancy will be looking to improve is the team's attacking involvement, as mentioned earlier.

Chicago Fire face significant challenges ahead of their trip to face the Columbus Crew. Not only are they struggling currently, but they will also be facing a well-performing opposition with the advantage of playing at home.

With a draw and a defeat in their first two games of the season, it's clear that a change is needed immediately, likely stemming from the tactical setup of both managers. The Black and Gold of Columbus will maintain their usual compactness and aim to make life difficult for the Chicago Fire attackers.

What are your score predictions?