Following a Luis Solignac stoppage-time goal that rallied the Fire to a point while hosting Montreal last week, the Men in Red will look to stay undefeated at home against a Columbus side that is coming off three wins in their last three matches.
The game will be a rematch of the clubs’ initial deadlocked meeting on March 1. However, much has changed for both teams since that contest.
The Columbus Crew have managed to string three wins together in a row, are currently sitting atop the Eastern Conference table, and will look to start their freshly-acquired attacking addition from Vancouver, Kekuta Manneh.
Meanwhile, the Fire’s continued rallying cry has been the recent acquisition of World Cup champion and German national team captain Bastian Schweinsteiger. Without question, his goal-scoring debut on the pitch last week made an immediate impact against Montreal, despite the Fire’s second-half collapse that demanded a storybook ending from Solignac to snag at least a point.
Unabashedly, the Fire media have continued to focus their energies on building hype around Schweinsteiger and his presence on the team. Before his debut, the attention was to be expected, and furthermore necessary to bring fans back to a declining attendance profile at Toyota Park. The praise for the German star continued after the Montreal game (for obvious goal-related reasons), and as the team heads into Saturday’s match Schweinsteiger is still very much the focal point.
However, it should be said that the German mid-fielder’s integration onto the field last week was not seamless. More than once, he and Dax McCarty appeared to be very much in one anothers way, and despite his early goal the Fire once again had to battle back to avoid a loss to an injury-laden Montreal side.
Though it appears to mostly go unsaid, it should be obvious that Schweinsteiger has never been (and is still not) an attacking midfield goalscorer, and his addition to the club alone will not fix the Fire’s offensive drought.
Usual scoring-machine David Accam has been quiet the whole season, and Hungarian striker Nemanja Nikolic has looked lost for most of his time up top. The Fire’s Saturday game-time rivals have notched seven goals for themselves in the last three games, while the Fire have only five for the whole season. It doesn’t help that Juninho will be out against Columbus due to his soft red last week.
Those goal-scoring issues, though Schweinsteiger’s vision and masterclass forward passing will unarguably help to fix, will still depend more on the individual determination and will of Accam and Nikolic.
On the defensive side, let’s not forget the four-goal beating that Chicago underwent during the team’s visit to Atalanta last month. A porous midfield (one that perhaps Schweinsteiger may actually be able to mend by himself, just as long as he and McCarty can avoid stepping on each other’s toes) and leaky back line have long plagued this Chicago side.
Thus, as fans flock to Toyota Park on Saturday to see Schweinsteiger in all of his legendary European glory, they should keep in mind that his addition is only the first piece to a much larger puzzle. More than his pinpoint passing and his ability to read the attack, Schweinsteiger’s greatest value is his leadership and knowledge of the game.
Nonetheless, soccer is about results, and the Fire need something positive immediately. With that mindset, Fire fans should view the game as an opportunity for Schweinsteiger and McCarty to find their balance in the midfield, and should watch for more dangerously crafty passing from the German midfielder as the Fire continue to try to generate goals from Accam and Nikolic.