The Chicago Fire Face Columbus Again, but With Basti This Time

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From Last Word on Soccer, by Robert Kerr

The Chicago Fire will face a familiar foe this weekend. On week five of the new MLS season the Fire will face midwestern rival Columbus Crew SC for the second time. Just like their opponent, the Fire’s early results are becoming uncomfortably familiar. The post game comments of Coach Veljko Paunovic and Dax McCarty from Saturday were very similar to those following the Fire’s opening draw in Columbus.

The Chicago Fire face Columbus Again, but With Basti This Time

Comments about holding leads late and building team chemistry were delivered on Saturday with a bit more edge and disappointment than after week one. The Chicago Fire have earned just five points from their opening four matches and will need to capitalize on the current stretch of home games. Getting the three points will be tough as Columbus come into Chicago on a three game winning streak.

The Fire seem to be figuring out their game as the matches play on. A recurring sight through the young season has been Dax McCarty yelling at and directing his teammates without the ball. A figuring out period is needed as the team is still very new as a unit, even before the Schweinsteiger addition. Results could well be hard to come by during the first months of the season while the squad becomes more cohesive. Many of the Fire’s Eastern Conference rivals have their systems set up and in motion, including the incoming Columbus club. The Crew come into Toyota Park in great form and may be boosted by their own new player, the speedy Kekuta Manneh from Vancouver.

Fire Defense Faces Big Test

A key to the match will be how Chicago’s defense deals with the Crewe’s attacking wide men. Crosses from Harrison Afful and Justin Meram tortured the Fire backline during the first meeting of the season. The Fire were fortunate to only concede once in Ohio’s capitol and were much better at preventing crosses in the second half. Getting a clean sheet this week will be a major achievement as Columbus appears much stronger than on opening day.

Schweinsteiger is a Big Addition

Both teams have made significant additions since the teams faced each other in early march. No disrespect to Manneh, Chicago’s new midfielder likely improves his club on a completely different level. Bastian Schweinsteiger is the most calm and confident player with the ball I have ever seen in person. The German’s broad frame, strong legs and pillowy touch has him standing over the ball with zero trepidation. I will admit however my in-person viewing catalog is underwhelming as far as global elites. My match attendance is dense but limited to Big 10 College soccer, NWSL, Chicago Fire, and Peterborough United games. This does not lessen my praise of the world cup champion in any way though. The class of play shown by the 32 year old was clear to all during his debut. 

Schweinsteiger could received the ball and shrug off his marker with just the faintest of movements. Aside from scoring the goal which became a globally viewed highlight, the new Men In Red provided so much for his new team. The Manchester United cast off made his entire team better and became a leader by example after only a few minutes. The midfielders confidence in possession, clever passing, and work rate drew top performances out of many of his teammates. Although he wears the number 31 on his back, the Fire’s new DP is clearly able to play as the number 10 role on the field.

A Prediction

Schweinsteiger’s influence will be both improved and critical this week. The Fire offense should become more cohesive as Schweinsteiger will link up impressively with Nikolic and Accam. At the other end of the field a clean sheet doesn’t seem likely. The Fire will have good possession but concede at least once. This column’s prediction for Saturday’s matchup at Toyota park is another disappointing 2-2 draw.