Scouting Report: Chicago Fire
The Crew heads back out on the road for the second straight week to renew its long-lived rivalry with the Chicago Fire on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET / FOX Sports Ohio). Though Frank Klopas' side currently sits in ninth-place on the MLS Eastern Conference table after earning only four points from its first six matches, the Crew knows records go out the window when the whistle blows at Toyota Park on Saturday.
"[The Fire is] starting to score goals, but sometimes the ball just doesn't bounce your way and you need to maybe shuffle your lineup or something else to find your identity again," Crew Head Coach Robert Warzycha said of Chicago's early slump. "They have a very good team, but they have a couple of injuries and that's why they're playing some different guys. Overall, I think they are a dangerous team that has lost a few games and they would love to win another against us."
Added goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum: "[Chicago] is still a dangerous team, top to bottom. It's one of those records, like Seattle, that you look at and you're like 'How?'"
"But you can throw out the records," Gruenebaum continued. "Whether it's the last game of the season or early on, this game means a lot to both teams."
PAUSE BRINGS POISE TO MIDFIELD
Early on in the Fire's struggles in 2013, the team sorely missed the veteran presence of Logan Pause in central midfield due to Injury. Pause returned to Chicago's lineup on April 7 to captain his club to its first win of the season, a 3-1 win over the New York Red Bulls.
"[Pause] is a good captain," former Fire striker Dominic Oduro said of the 11-year MLS veteran. "We always listened to him when I was in Chicago. He's the voice of the team, you can't take that factor away. Since he's been back, they've been really solid in the middle. He really works hard and you have to give him that respect."
Having players with similar experience on his own roster in Chad Marshall, Danny O'Rourke and Eddie Gaven, Warzycha know the importance of having a vocal leader on the field.
"[Pause] brings experience," the Crew skipper said. "Being in Chicago for so many years, he's played under a few different coaches and showed he is a solid player and a leader. When you have a leader on the field, you feel better. You're more confident. He brings a lot to their team."
SNAPPING THE STREAK
Visits to Toyota Park haven't been kind to the Black & Gold in recent times. The Crew hasn't won in its last nine matches at Chicago - including two losses last season - dating back to October 7, 2006. Of the six times the Black & Gold have lost at Toyota Park, five of those matches have been decided by a single goal.
"We're scoring goals in Chicago," Warzycha explained. "We're not winning the games, but we've tied a few games. It would be nice to hopefully continue to score goals over there, and hopefully with maturity and a good defensive performance we can win."
The hostile atmosphere in Chicago is daunting for opponents, much like the confines of Crew Stadium.
"I think [playing at Toyota Park] is tough for the same reason our place is a difficult place to play, [the Fire's] fans get behind them," Gruenebaum said. "They play really well at home. It's a really tough environment any time you go in there. It's a hostile environment."
Gruenebaum is quick to point out the Crew's last win at Toyota Park holds some significance, however.
The 'keeper made his first career start as in the 4-1 Crew win back in 2006. He will look to earn the Black & Gold's next victory in Chicago on Saturday.