Sometimes, it's good to get the enemy's perspective. TheCrew.com's Cody Sharrett and Chicago-Fire.com's Jeff Crandall grill each other on the current state of the Crew and Fire.
Cody Sharrett: The Fire sit in playoff position for the first time in 2013. What’s the atmosphere like in the locker room with six matches left to go in the season?
Jeff Crandall: Having gone 2-7-1 through their first 10 matches, everyone at the Fire will say the team had a pretty bad start to the year. Still, the spirit never faltered and the arrivals of Mike Magee and Bakary Soumare in late May helped stabilize things a great deal.
Despite a few disappointing results to start September, the team still remains one of the hottest in the league since that time but the fact the fact that we’re in mid-September and last Saturday was the first time they’ve reached a playoff position tells just how deep a hole was dug at the beginning of the year.
There are a few reasons for the turnaround this season but it most assuredly wouldn’t have happened if the mood didn’t stay positive through the hard times. Now that they’re in a position to qualify for the playoffs, they’ve noticeably gained even more confidence heading into the close of the season and will go to Crew Stadium looking for a season sweep on Saturday.
CS: New DP Juan Luis Ananganó bagged his first goal for the Fire last week against New England. How has he changed the dynamic of the club’s attack?
JC: Though he is a Designated Player, Anangono was purposely not billed as someone that would come in and be a significant contributor right away. He is a strong target striker that has a lot of work ethic but as we see with many foreign players coming to MLS for the first time, an adjustment period is needed.
He showed flashes in games before but his 30th minute equalizer in Saturday’s win over New England was huge for a Fire team that had once again conceded early in a match. Though he may have been offside on the second equalizer through Mike Magee, his shielding the defender was what gave the Fire’s leading scorer an easy conversion.
Anangono’s transition to the Fire and MLS isn’t complete but his recent performances now give head coach Frank Klopas the most variety he’s had all season up top and allows the manager to be more unpredictable with his lineups at the close of the season.
CS: Since the Fire’s first season in 1998, the rivalry with the Crew has been one of the best in MLS. What is the general feeling of this rivalry among the Chicago supporters compared to other rivalries?
JC: In my view, (and I may be biased because I’m a Wolverine) the rivalry with the Crew is the best the Fire currently have. Last season 600 supporters went to Crew Stadium and the year before about 400 attended. Hands down, the visit(s) to Crew Stadium are one of the first games Fire supporters circle on their calendars when the schedule is released every year.
Games against the Crew mean a lot to Klopas as well as Crew Stadium was the site of his first win as interim head coach back on June 12, 2011 and it was him that scored the Golden Goal winner against Columbus in the 1998 U.S. Open Cup final at Soldier Field.
In the locker room, Ohioans Chris Rolfe and Austin Berry especially get up for games vs. “The Massive” but throughout the team, whether players are new or haven't been around too long, its known that matches vs. the Crew are big and usually very intense.
With both teams pushing for the playoffs and former players on both sides of the divide, I expect no less on Saturday.
Jeff Crandall: The Crew looked destined to miss the playoffs again this season but the move of Brian Bliss downstairs as interim head coach has seen the team win two of its last three matches. What has changed since he took over the dressing room?
Cody Sharrett: With the coaching change, I think some players felt they had something to prove and re-earn their spots in the lineup. Bliss has brought more accountability to the club with his tell-like-it-is, yet positive approach. Training sessions are definitely more vocal and the players seem to be responding to Bliss’ style.
Even in the 3-0 loss at Kansas City, Tchani was one of the few bright spots for the Crew. Wahl, on the other hand, brings veteran presence to the backline alongside stalwart Chad Marshall. Aside from one slip up that led to a Marco Di Vaio goal, Wahl paired well with Marshall in his first match of the season at centerback.The change has also helped guys who had maybe fallen out of favor with Robert Warzycha earn new opportunities on the field. Since the coaching change, both Tony Tchani and Tyson Wahl have seen their minutes increase. Tchani has brought a physical presence to central midfield and was key in the wins against Houston and Montreal.
JC: The Fire dealt Dominic Oduro to the Crew in a January trade that brought Dilly Duka and eventually Mike Magee to Chicago. Dom just scored his 10th goal of the season for the Crew last weekend, how has he helped the Columbus attack improve this year?
CS: Oduro’s speed has definitely added a different dimension to the Crew attack that just hasn’t been there in the past. Federico Higuaín leads MLS with 44 attempted through balls this season, and with Oduro’s pace, can you blame him? When the two have connected, it’s been a work of art as evidenced by Oduro’s goals in Toronto earlier in the season and last week in Montreal.
A pleasant surprise in Oduro’s game for Crew fans has been his ability to make defenses pay for mistakes, thus coining the term “Grand Theft Oduro.” Teams have been more hesitant playing out of the back due to Oduro’s ability to pounce on miscues.
Leading the team with 10 goals this season, Oduro has been a breath of fresh air for the Black & Gold.
JC: The Crew have little margin for error in remaining matches if they hope to qualify for the playoffs. With backs against the wall, what is the mood and spirit like going into Saturday’s game vs. the Fire?
CS: The locker room has been positive, especially since the win at Montreal. The Crew knows it needs help from other results, but also realizes it most likely needs to win-out to ensure a playoff spot. With four of the five remaining matches coming against Eastern Conference opponents, the points are there for the taking.