Preview: Fire, Crew clash with playoff position on the line
CHICAGO FIRE vs COLUMBUS CREW
TOYOTA PARK, Bridgeview, Ill.
September 22, 2012 (WEEK 29, MLS Game #278)
7:30 p.m. CT (NBC5.2; FS-OH)
The Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew meet in a match with huge playoff implications as the longtime rivals face off Saturday evening at Toyota Park. Riding a three-game winning streak following a come-from-behind 3-1 win against Montreal last weekend, the Fire have pulled into second place in the Eastern Conference. The Crew are now five points behind them, sitting in the fifth and final playoff spot in the East, after their last-gasp 1-0 win against Chivas USA at home at midweek.
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REFEREE: Michael Kennedy. AR1 (bench): Peter Manikowski; AR2 (opposite): Baboucarr Jallow; 4th: Ricardo Salazar
MLS Career: 149 games; FC/gm: 28.6; Y/gm: 3.8; R: 31; pens: 50
- CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: DF Cory Gibbs (R knee meniscus repair); DF Steven Kinney (R groin pain); QUESTIONABLE: DF Dan Gargan (L knee pain) ;
- COLUMBUS CREW -- OUT: FW Tommy Heinemann (L knee surgery); GK William Hesmer (R hip surgery); MF Bernardo Anor (L knee ACL tear); DF Carlos Mendes (R hamstring strain); QUESTIONABLE: MF Danny O'Rourke (L ankle sprain); DF Rich Balchan (sports hernia rehab); PROBABLE: GK Andy Gruenebaum (lower back stiffness)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
SUSPENDED: CHI: Dan Gargan (caution accumulation; through Sept. 23)
- SUSPENDED NEXT YELLOW CARD: CHI: Pavel Pardo ; CLB: Chris Birchall
- SUSPENDED AFTER TWO YELLOW CARDS: CHI: Sebastian Grazzini, Patrick Nyarko, Dominic Oduro, Gonzalo Segares ; CLB: Bernardo Anor, Tony Tchani, Sebastian Miranda, Dilly Duka, Danny O'Rourke, Justin Meram
- ALL-TIME (46 meetings): Fire 21 wins (1 shootout), 72 goals ; Crew 12 wins (0 shootout), 68 goals ; Ties 13
- AT CHICAGO (24 meetings): Fire 12 wins (0 shootout), 40 goals ; Crew 5 wins (0 shootout), 31 goals ; Ties 7
5/26: CLB 2, CHI 1 (Gaven 9, Renteria 43 -- Berry 72)
6/23: CHI 2, CLB 1 (Pappa 2; Oduro 20 -- Tchani 35)
- The teams have split a pair of 2-1 decisions this season. Eddie Gaven and Emilio Renter"a scored first-half goals to lead the Crew to a win in Columbus on May 26, then Marco Pappa and Dominic Oduro hit first-half strikes to give the Fire the win June 23 at Toyota Park.
- With the Fire victory in the last meeting, the Crew haven't won in Bridgeview since 2006 (eight visits).
- Coaches record: Frank Klopas vs. CLB: P4 W3 L1 D0 ; Robert Warzycha v CHI: P12 W3 L5 D4
LAST MEETING (MLS)
- The Fire took the lead in just the second minute when Marco Pappa's right-footed blast from 25 yards was too hot for Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum and flew into the back of the net.
- The home side then doubled their lead in the 25th minute when Sebastian Grazzini sprung Dominic Oduro with a through ball, and Oduro lashed it past Gruenebaum from inside the area.
- The match turned in the 29th minute when Gonzalo Segares' studs-up challenge caught Crew midfielder Kevan George on the inside of the knee, and he was shown red by referee Armando Villarreal.
- Six minutes later, Tony Tchani put the Crew on the board, beating Sean Johnson with a low shot after receiving a pass from Chris Birchall and blowing by two Fire defenders. But the 10-man Fire held out the rest of the way.
- CHICAGO FIRE (4-2-3-1): Sean Johnson - Dan Gargan, Austin Berry, Jalil Anibaba, Gonzalo Segares (sent off 29) - Logan Pause, Pavel Pardo - Patrick Nyarko (Arne Friedrich 72), Sebastian Grazzini (Chris Rolfe 59), Marco Pappa - Dominic Oduro (Rafael Robayo 80).
- COLUMBUS CREW (4-4-1-1): Andy Gruenebaum - Sebastian Miranda, Josh Williams, Julius James, Nemanja Vukovic (Ethan Finlay 78) - Chris Birchall, Kevan George, Tony Tchani, Justin Meram (Aaron Schoenfeld 58) - Eddie Gaven - Emilio Renteria (Olman Vargas 75).
The Chicago Fire stretched their winning streak to three games, coming back for a 3-1 win against the Montreal Impact on Saturday evening at Toyota Park. The Fire are in second place in the Eastern Conference with 50 points from 28 games.
- Marco Di Vaio gave the Impact the lead in the 20th minute when he settled a beautiful lead pass off a header from Hassoun Camara, beat a defender and placed his shot in the lower corner of the goal.
- But the Fire pulled level in the 34th minute. Jalil Anibaba's cross from the right flank found Sherjill MacDonald, and he flicked a header to the far corner.
- In the 61st minute, Alvaro Fern·ndez found Alex with a pass into the penalty area after a Montreal turnover in their own half, and the Brazilian gave the Fire the lead by beating goalkeeper Troy Perkins to the upper corner.
- Ten minutes from time, Fern·ndez put the game out of reach when he settled a cross from Dan Gargan and beat Perkins with a shot to the lower corner.
- Fire head coach Frank Klopas made one change to the team that defeated Toronto FC 2-1 at BMO Field. Alex came into the side in place of Pavel Pardo.
- CHICAGO FIRE (4-2-3-1): Sean Johnson - Jalil Anibaba, Arne Friedrich (Dan Gargan 41), Austin Berry, Gonzalo Segares - Logan Pause, Alex - Patrick Nyarko, Chris Rolfe, Alvaro Fernandez (Wells Thompson 83) - Sherjill MacDonald (Dominic Oduro 77).
- The Fire have strung together a three-game winning streak for the third time this season -- their season-long -- and have won six times in their last seven matches dating back to Aug. 4. It was also the fifth consecutive win at Toyota Park for the Fire.
- "The main goal is to make the playoffs, but if the top spot is in sight that's great, we want to host a conference final. It would give us a home field advantage, which we thrive on and would give us a better shot to play for a championship," said Patrick Nyarko. "Last year L.A. won the Supporters' Shield with the same amount of points as we have right now, our success is becoming a reality. Over the course of the season guys are seeing what it takes to get that winning mentality. Last year it might have been difficult to come back from being goals down, we'd get our heads down. It's different this year; our confidence rises up, especially when we're down."
- The major contributions in the Montreal win all came from players added to the club during the season.
- "When you bring new players in, you expect that they'll fit in, and for some guys that transition is faster than others," said Fire head coach Frank Klopas. "But now they've been in the team for quite a while. We do a lot of stuff in training so there's a good understanding with the players, but this is what I expect of them. I know they scored tonight, but they have a lot more to give. They'll get a lot better and keep improving as the games come. They're talented players, I expect better and bigger things from them."
- Sherjill MacDonald got back on the scoresheet with his second MLS goal, his first since Aug. 18, a span of five matches. He was making his sixth start since signing with the Fire.
- "Sometimes I put maybe too much pressure on myself, and sometimes it works opposite," MacDonald said. "Sometimes you want to force things because you want to show your abilities, but I spoke with the coach and he told me to relax, and everything will come. That gave me a little bit of confidence."
- "I know he's hard on himself, but he's patient," midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. "I think he's a guy with a lot of confidence, coming from Europe. He tells us, when we miss in training, Europeans, when they miss, they move on to the next play. He might feel bad for himself, but he just moves onto another play."
- Alvaro Fernandez continued his rich vein of form, with his second goal in as many games, and his first assist since coming to the Fire from Seattle.
- Chris Rolfe also continued his good form of late, with his second assist of the season. Over the last eight games, Rolfe has five goals and the assist.
- Making his fourth start since signing with the club, his first since July 28, Designated Player Alex scored his second goal in the last three games. Usually run out in an attacking midfield role, Alex filled the spot usually held by the injured Pavel Pardo.
- "That's definitely something I feel comfortable with," Alex said. "In Switzerland, I played the No. 6 spot, the second midfielder role, so it's definitely something I know how to do. ; I think I've adapted to the league a little more. I feel like I should always be there to help the team, and goals will come naturally."
- There was an injury scare for the Fire when veteran center back Arne Friedrich was forced to come off before halftime.
- "He wasn't comfortable," Klopas said. "We took him off pretty early on because he was having pain in his ability to turn, and he couldn't go. It takes a lot for this guy to come off ; the good thing now is that we've got the whole week to get ready. I think he'll be ready. He's having some pain and some difficulty turning, but I think it's something we can take care of."
The Columbus Crew put an end to their two-game losing skid in dramatic fashion, getting a late goal for a 1-0 win against Chivas USA on Wednesday evening at Crew Stadium. The Crew moved into fifth place in the Eastern Conference with 45 points from 29 games.
- The game's lone goal came in the 89th minute. A cross from Federico Higua"n from the left was touched onto goal by Jairo Arrieta, but Chivas 'keeper Dan Kennedy made the save. But while still prone, Arrieta managed to head the rebound backward into the path of an onrushing Justin Meram, who pounded it home from close range.
- Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum was credited with five saves for the shutout, including one on Oswaldo Minda in the 92nd minute that preserved the win.
- Crew head coach Robert Warzycha made one changes to the team that dropped a 3-1 decision to the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. Federico Higuain came back into the team, in place of Tony Tchani.
- COLUMBUS CREW (4-2-3-1): Andy Gruenebaum - Sebastian Miranda, Chad Marshall, Julius James, Josh Williams - Danny O'Rourke, Milovan Mirosevic (Tony Tchani 67) - Eddie Gaven (Justin Meram 80), Federico Higuain, Dilly Duka (Emilio Renteria 57) - Jairo Arrieta.
- The Crew won their fourth consecutive game at Crew Stadium, and extended their home undefeated run to six games. Their last home loss came July 14 to Sporting KC.
- "In the first half the game didn't go our way and we were a little bit disconnected. We had some opportunities from flank play, but nothing that Chivas was worried about," said Crew head coach Robert Warzycha. "The second half was a little different I thought the subs made a difference -- they provided a spark. The entire second half I didn't think Chivas was dangerous. They had some set pieces, but other than that the defense played well and we were rewarded with a nice goal."
- Justin Meram scored his fourth goal of the season, but his first since scoring goals in three consecutive games May 12-23.
- "We needed that tonight. Especially at home in front of a great crowd on a great night. We would have been disappointed with a tie, so we're very happy with the result and we'll need to keep going and build on this in Chicago," said Meram.
- Since the death of rookie midfielder Kirk Urso and the postponement of a game Aug. 11 vs. Toronto FC, the Crew are 5-2-2. Meram dedicated his winning goal to Urso.
- "The referee made me take a [wrist] band off and told me to put it in my sock," Meram said. "I put it in my sock, and funny, two minutes later I scored. My man Kirk, I love you to death, was with me tonight."
- After coming on as a very late substitute in the loss in New York because of foot inflammation, Federico Higua"n returned to the starting lineup and played the full 90 minutes.
- "It's been better than the last couple of games but it's still sore," Higua"n said. "I need to keep working on the rehab and get rid of the pain as soon as possible."
- Jairo Arrieta recorded an assist for a second consecutive match and now has four since coming to the club. For the fifth time in the last nine matches, Arrieta recorded a goal or an assist (with three goals and three assists in that time).
- Despite suffering a cut to his face after colliding with the goalpost in the New York match, which forced his from the match in the 85th minute, Andy Gruenebaum was able to start and play the full game.
- "It's a team effort top-to-bottom. The communication was really good tonight; guys were playing for each other and winning individual battles. It was something we have to keep going to stay in the [MLS Cup Playoffs] race," said Gruenebaum.
- It was the third consecutive victory for the Crew in the game's final minutes. They won back-to-back games in stoppage time against Philadelphia and Montreal.
- "You try to win every game, but in the end sometimes the guys we have on the bench can make a difference at the end [of games]. We are always dangerous with set pieces and pushing for the goal to try and win," said Warzycha. "In order to get in the playoffs we have to score goals and win games and sometimes you need to push late. At the end [of the game] the spacing was right and guys knew what they had to do." Said Meram: "Our coaches probably don't like that we leave games so late. It makes them a bit edgy on the bench, but it seems to be working for us and people shouldn't sleep on us."