The Chicago Fire Tie Columbus Crew, Most Likely Ending Their Playoff Hopes
The last time the Chicago Fire faced the Columbus Crew they came out flying, racking up a 2 – 0 lead in the first half. Unfortunately the final 45 minutes of that match saw the Fire give up 3 goals while providing the Crew’s new Designated Player Cucho Hernandez a game winning goal and an electrifying start to his MLS career. That match has been cited by supporters and players alike as the lowest point in what has been an extremely challenging season for the Chicago Fire Football Club.
Tonight the Fire once again faced the Crew but this time in Columbus at the gleaming, and raucous, Lower.com field. While the two sides had roughly the same number of wins going into the match their seasons could not be in more different positions. The Crew, at 9-6-14 ,had only lost once in the last 15 matches while Chicago, 8 -13 – 9, have been winless in their last four and have all but disappeared from the playoff discussion.
The Crew controlled this game early on but things began to even out as the match wore on. Despite being out possessed by Columbus 62% – 38% the Fire seemed their feet and had Columbus on their heels for numerous periods of play. While things were going well the Fire’s plans had to change when in the 33rd minute the Chicago’s Brian Gutiérrez went off injured and was replaced by the promising young Columbian star Johan Durán.
Bringing on Durán forced coach Ezra Hendrickson to switch to a 4-4-2 formation, a first for the season. Despite this tactical change and being forced to play with a depleted lineup a structured and disciplined Chicago defense held their own against the home side, yet on offense the Chicago Fire struggled to find much creativity and were not able finish off their chances. The Columbus Crew were not without their own opportunities in the first 45 minutes but were held scoreless thanks to some key saves from Chelsea FC’s Gaga Slonina that ensured that the half ended level at 0-0.
The second half saw the Crew come out desperate for a goal that would secure them three points and keep their playoff hopes alive. Their pressure was clearly straining a Chicago squad that had been snuffing out attacks all night long. Luckily it was once again the young Slonina who kept the Fire in the game with 9 saves.
Hoping to steal a win coach Hendrickson sent on the Fire’s highly paid, and largely uninspiring, designated player Xherdan Sahqiri in the 68th minute. While Shaq did manage a few dangerous passes as the game headed towards its conclusion his presence did little to change the game as the Chicago Fire held on against a persistent Columbus attack to draw 0-0.
There were several flashes of quality in this game, none more than that of of Gaga Slonina, but In the end the match ended up reflecting what has been an extremely disappointing season for the Fire. Just like 2022 the Fire had moments of quality and excitement that ultimately led to nothing. The Fire have the 5th highest payroll in MLS and one of the highest paid players in league history in Shaqiri yet will once again miss the playoffs and finish towards the bottom of the East. It is perhaps even more telling that tonight’s match was the best performance the team has produced over their last 5, a game when they were forced to play in a new formation and none of their three highly paid Designated Players started.
On a final note, Zee Soccer Pod star and fan favorite Fabian Herbers put in a strong shift. Herbers was all over the pitch illustrating that a player who wants to play and win will always outperform one looking to cash checks and take it easy.
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