The Columbus Crew (8-15-6, 30 pts.) returns home for the first time in two weeks to face a Chicago Fire side that has proven less than stellar on the road this season.
Through 14 matches, the Fire (8-12-9, 33 pts.) arrives to MAPFRE Stadium with a 1-10-3 road record, with the lone win coming at the Houston Dynamo on Aug. 3 via a 1-0 scoreline. The match marked the second consecutive loss in a current six-match winless streak for the Dynamo.
Come Saturday, the Crew return to the pitch having scored at least two goals in six of their last eight matches, including a pair of goals in each of the club’s last three home matches. Gyasi Zardes has led the charge with four goals in the last five matches overall, while Pedro Santos has contributed four goals and three assists in the last seven matches overall.
Scoring- and points-wise, the team is trending up, and it’s been due to a mixture of factors, said head coachCaleb Porter.
“The last eight games have been a great stretch for us…We are scoring goals. We are playing aggressively. We are getting results,” Porter said. “I’m really proud of the guys. The stretch is certainly in line with getting some guys back in Wil Trapp, Gyasi, [Jonathan Mensah], Harry [Harrison Afful] and also signing some guys, so there’s no coincidence in getting some quality back and some quality added as well.”
The two sides last met on July 17 in Bridgeview, Ill., with Zardes and late substitution Romario Williams netting a goal apiece to lead the Crew to a comeback 2-2 draw, which began a six-match unbeaten run for the Crew.
Now, the Black & Gold, who are 5-6-4 at home this season, host a Chicago side that has scored a League-low 12 road goals, though it has not been due to lack of opportunity as the Fire ranks fifth in chances created on the road with 141.
Overall, the Fire has scored 13 of their 43 total goals from dead-ball or set-piece plays, which ranks second behind the Colorado Rapids (18). Chicago’s scoring is top-heavy with 21 combined goals from two players – Nemanja Nikolić (11) and CJ Sapong (10) – while Nicolás Gaitán has provided a team-high 10 assists.
As for Saturday’s focus, following a 3-1 win at FC Cincinnati over the weekend, Santos spoke the obvious, saying the team needs to play as they did against Cincy – particularly in the first half – which featured three goals in a 25-minute span. But more to it, how the team played in the first half, according to Santos, allowed them to keep shape and control the tempo.
“We need to come into the first half strong. Give everything to score one, two, three goals if possible,” Santos said. “In the second half, obviously, we don’t need to run to try to score another goal. We need to keep the shape, slow the tempo, and control the result.”
Front-half football, as Porter described it, is what he wants, particularly in the next two home games. Up-front pressure has proven to have an effect on Chicago, who has committed 14 errors leading to shots on goal (incl. goals), the most in MLS.
The scouting report is relatively known, Porter mentioned, and with two home matches remaining and just five left in the regular season, there are not many secrets at this point.
"We know their identity at this point. I always say at the last stage of the season, there are no mysteries," Porter said. "They know our strengths, we know their strengths, they know our weaknesses, we know theirs, and it’s going to come down to executing and ideally you want to execute in a position of your strengths. Our strengths, recently, have been we are more aggressive in the attack and we are scoring goals and we have to keep making that a strength because that’s been getting us goals and getting us points."
For a team that likes to build slowly out of the back, Santos stressed the transition game against Chicago.
"We know they like to build and they build with a slow tempo, so when we have the ball we need to push forward and be strong because they [have quality], but if we play quick we can score goals."
Kickoff on Saturday is set for 7:30 p.m. ET. Supporters can watch the match on FOX Sports Ohio or listen on 97.1 FM The Fan or www.ColumbusCrewSC.com (English & Spanish).