Match storylines: Thursday's rematch with Columbus Crew SC


Matchup Chicago Fire (6-16-9, 27 pts.) vs. Columbus Crew (8-12-11, 32 pts.)
Date Thursday, October 13 • 7:30 p.m. CT
Location Bridgeview, Ill. • Toyota Park
TV CSN Chicago (Pregame Coverage: 7 p.m. CT)
Radio (Spanish) 97.5 FM Poder
Fire Field Vision Watch Now

With just three matches left to play this season, the Chicago Fire are fixated on a winning end to their 2016 campaign.

“It’s important to end the season with some wins,” midfielder John Goossens said. “We’ve got now two games at home. We have to fight for those wins for the supporters, for all the fans who come to the stadium. We didn’t reach the playoffs, but it’s really important to end the season with a good feeling.”

While the team fell short of reaching the Audi MLS Cup playoffs, many of the team’s first-year players recognize the impact a final good showing can have toward creating momentum for a better 2017. If they’re to do that, it will have to begin with a win in Thursday night’s replay with Columbus Crew SC (7:30 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago | TICKETS), who must take three points from the Fire in order to keep their own fleeting playoff hopes alive.

“First, we’re focused on the Columbus game,” defender Jonathan Campbell said. “(After) last game, we’re seeing what we can work upon and from there just building on those type of things, seeing what we can change. As a whole, just trying to improve upon the team and see what we can get going forward for next year as well.”

Thursday night’s match represents an opportunity to make amends for the Fire’s last outing against their Ohio rivals, a 3-0 defeat at MAPFRE Stadium on Oct. 1. On Monday, head coach Veljko Paunovic said he expects an appropriate “reaction” from his side when the two teams meet again this week, needing his collective unit to help eliminate the space and channels in Columbus' attacking third that allowed for Harrison Afful, Justin Meram and Dilly Duka to each find net in the game.

“I think they’ll obviously change a little bit, but it worked well for them last game,” Campbell said. “On this one, they’re coming here so I don’t think they’ll press as high, but I think that’ll pretty much be the same. I think we’re going to get a lot of the same looks, maybe a couple different players, but I expect the same from them.”

The Fire have squared off against Columbus twice at Toyota Park this season and earned results on both occasions. The first matchup came in a scoreless draw in March and the second in a 2-1 late June victory that knocked Crew SC out of the 2016 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament. Replicating that performance in particular would go a long way in the Fire bringing an end to Crew SC's current eight-match unbeaten streak (5-0-3) against Chicago in MLS play. 

“I think they will play the same as they did last game because they won, but we have to do better,” Goossens said. “It’s a home game for us. Everybody knows we are better at home. Let’s work really hard and hopefully we get a win.”

Playing the same team in back-to-back matches hasn’t been a staple of the Fire schedule since the early-mid 2000s, when it consistently happened at least once a season in the early years of the league. The Fire have done the immediate replay on 14 occasions in the club’s history, 12 of which took place between 1998 and 2007. Coincidentally, the Fire played a back-to-back home-and-away series with Crew SC over the course of four days in July of 2015, with Columbus taking full points in both contests.

Black Star brethren
Ghanaian internationals David Accam and Harrison Afful have spent quite a bit of time with one another over the last two weeks. Both were called into the national team during the latest FIFA-sanctioned break and will be returning from international duty in the run up to Thursday night's match. Each player featured over the course of the Black Stars' two matches. First, Afful went a full 90 against Uganda in a 0-0 draw, then both men featured in a 1-1 draw with South Africa on Tuesday in which Accam came on in the 46th minute and Afful left injured in the 62nd. The international link-up comes sandwiched between Accam's visit to Afful's home stadium on Oct. 1 -- when Afful opened the scoring with his knuckling blast from distance -- and Thursday night's replay. Given travel and Afful's slight injury, the inclusion of one or both in their respective lineups is up in the air. 

#CHIvCLB All-Time
The Fire still hold the lead in the all-time series between these two clubs with a record of 24-17-16 going back to 1998. Chicago has also largely been able to claim points when the rivalry plays out at Toyota Park, boasting a 6-2-7 record against Crew SC on home turf. As with the least meeting, two members of the Fire first team will be staring down their old side come Thursday night. Defender Eric Gehrig played in Columbus from 2011-14, while goalkeeper Matt Lampson -- back to action after a recent nagging injury -- was a member of Crew SC from 2012-15.