Chicago Fire vs Columbus Crew: Week 19 Preview

Closing in on the final game of this home-stand before what will likely be a grueling six game road trip, the Chicago Fire need to make sure they get all the points out of this one. Especially when up against a rival who seems to have fallen off their perch this season, the Columbus Crew. There is always a chance every season for something stupid and beautiful to happen and with a win here, the Fire might keep themselves alive for a while longer. Here’s the update on injuries.

There were a couple of players that have actually been cleared to play going into this one that didn’t seem like they could for the Chicago Fire. Alvaro Medran was scratched from the lineup against the New York Red Bulls due to an illness on the day. Carlos Teran’s early exit was due to a really bad cramp, so he should be available if needed. Robert Beric’s absence from the lineup actually isn’t because of his form, but because he is still recovering from a broken nose, which is why he’s had the mask for the past month. Finally for the Fire, new signing Federico Navarro has yet to make it into the country due to visa issues, but he should be in by the end of the month. As for the Columbus Crew, Artur, Milton Valenzuela, and Perry Kitchen are still out. Josh Williams is recovering from a recent injury, but highly unlikely to play; but Vito Wormgoor appears to be much closer to a return onto the pitch. And in late additions to the injury list for Columbus, Luis Dias and Marlon Hairston are also listed as out now.

Here’s what to consider going into the final home game before a long road trip.

Tough Rebound

This season has been rough for the Columbus Crew. After winning the fight for their existence and winning their second MLS Cup, the team looked set to repeat. Not only were they good, but they were set to get even stronger with the addition of playmaker Kevin Molino and legendary goal-scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips. But things have gone wrong very quickly for the team very early in the season. Their first two games, fairly boring scoreless draws against the Philadelphia Union and CF Montreal, were unfortunate signs of things to come. They only scored in one of their first five games of the season, netting three in a win against DC United in between scoreless draws and shutout losses.

While not outright playing terribly, a defending champion should be at more than just two wins in their last ten. Now on a three-game losing skid in games where they’re getting massively out-gunned, the Columbus Crew are really showing off why they haven’t been doing well this season. The reason is just the sheer amount of injuries and absences that they’ve continued to suffer throughout the season, never really finding a game to bring out their full roster. And unfortunately for them, they will continue to struggle with those personnel losses for at least another game, with more injuries being announced as I was writing this.

Collier’s True Value

I like to joke around. I find that laughing in the face of an absolutely terrible situation for the Chicago Fire is the best way to handle yourself, because in the words of one of my favorite songwriters, Julien Baker: “This will have to be funny or else it’ll just be sad.” But, when I say that Elliot Collier is the most important player to the Chicago Fire attack, I am no longer joking. This is a fact now. Collier is the only player on the team with a positive +/- and he also has the highest “On-Off” statistic that compares the team’s success when a player is on the pitch vs when they are off the pitch.

So, the reason why I say “most important” and not “best” player is because Elliot Collier isn’t a good soccer player. He’s really not. But he’s good at certain things that help the overall team player better. He is the only player that seems to relish in taking defenders on 1v1. He’s not very good at it, but his actions force something to happen. For an attack that lacks in creativity at times, his admittedly bone-head plays actually spur on the other, better, attackers to react and respond to his actions. He is a catalyst, but not in the traditional sense of creating something out of nothing. He simply starts the reaction, letting others take over for him.

For that reason, Elliot Collier is the most important player on the Chicago Fire. Not due to ability, but quite possibly due to a perfect lack of ability.

A Slow and Agonizing Ending

The season is essentially over for the Chicago Fire. The team is still on track to possibly meet my limit of 7 points in three games, but everyone around the Fire has been here before. The Fire’s greatest gift is their ability to drag themselves out onto a long and painful death at the end of a season. Last season, the league continued changing rules around to almost try to shove the Fire back into the playoffs, but the team refused to win when they needed to. Many times, it’s come down to the last game of the season or a play-in game to the playoffs.

A win on Sunday is very possible, but also a win would only mean that this becomes a longer and more drawn out process. For a team that needs to strongly reconsider and rethink its… everything, the Chicago Fire are actually hurt by any sort of playoff push. For other American sports, there’s the idea of tanking for a good draft pick, but even that does not help the Fire in a new era where the MLS SuperDraft has been rendered effectively pointless by homegrown signings and overseas opportunities for college seniors.

It’s not over until it’s over, but it’s gonna hurt every single moment that it’s not over.

Projected XI

Chicago Fire (5-2-2-1): Bobby Shuttleworth; Francisco Calvo, Jonathan Bornstein, Mauricio Pineda, Johan Kappelhof, Boris Sekulic; Alvaro Medran, Gaston Gimenez; Ignacio Aliseda, Elliot Collier; Chinonso Offor

Columbus Crew (4-2-3-1): Eloy Room; Waylon Francis, Aboubacar Keita, Jonathan Mensah, Harrison Afful; Pedro Santos, Darlington Nagbe; Kevin Molino, Lucas Zelarayan, Derrick Etienne; Gyasi Zardes

How To Watch

Sunday, August 15th, 5:00PM CDT; At Soldier Field in Chicago, IL, broadcasting on WGN and online through the Chicago Fire website