Black & Gold looking for another complete performance

It’s not often that you get the chance to beat your rival twice within a week, let alone in front of a national television audience. But that’s exactly what Columbus Crew SC is aiming for when it hosts the Chicago Fire on Sunday for Round 2 of this week’s back-to-back series.

Four days after defeating the Fire 1-0 in Bridgeview, Illinois, Crew SC welcomes Chicago at MAPFRE Stadium. Kickoff is at 5 p.m. ET and the match will be televised on ESPN2.

“Whenever you play against Chicago, you know it’s going to be a battle,” defender Chad Barson says. “It’s always sweet being able to beat them.”

Wednesday’s win in Chicago was particularly “sweet” for the Black & Gold for several reasons. Crew SC won its first match in Chicago in nine years, recorded its first shutout since April and earned its first away win of the season.

More importantly, however, Columbus (7-7-6) cemented its playoff ambitions in a tight Eastern Conference.

“This is the time of the year where you want to be moving upward, moving forward and progressing,” defender Tyson Wahl says. “It’s these summer months where some teams may start to struggle and really dig themselves into a hole, and we don’t want to be that team. We want to be the team that’s starting to ascend and build some momentum.”

Crew SC started to build that momentum on Wednesday with a complete performance that impressed both on offense and defense. Particularly in the first half, the Black & Gold put on the pressure outshooting Chicago 10-2 and earning up to 70% possession at one point.  

“I think it was a really complete performance in the sense that a lot of players showed up to play and we put the effort in,” Wahl says. “When we put that much pressure on them with our offense, it allows the defenders to conserve some more energy to make the plays that you have to make.”

Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter says he was pleased with the balance his team found between offense and defense.

“I think the guys worked hard and it is a team effort,” he says. “When you look at how our forwards were closing down late in the game, it makes a big difference. It makes the job easier for the rest of the group.”

Barson says the determination and grit to battle for 90 minutes was key to earning the shutout in Chicago.

“As a team, everyone bought in to keeping a shutout for 90 minutes,” he says. “I think you could definitely see that, especially late in the game, guys throwing themselves at balls, to clear the ball, to just be a competitor for 90 minutes and make sure we got out of there not conceding a goal.”

The Black & Gold will carry that mindset into Sunday’s match, one that Wahl expects to be tougher than Wednesday’s.

“I think they’ll probably show a different side to them,” he says. “I don’t know what changes they may make, but we’re aware that they have dangerous players that they can use. Some of the guys that came off the bench might be starting, who knows, but they definitely have some threatening players. We’re expecting them to play a better game than they did on Wednesday.”

Berhalter says his side will be ready for whatever the Fire will throw at them at MAPFRE Stadium.

“I think there’s a certain confidence level, but we also know that Chicago’s a good team,” he says. “We also know that they’re going to make adjustments. We also know they have a very good attacking quality. We’re not going to rest on [the last match], we need to improve.”

Barson says the Black & Gold are excited for the chance to take on the Chicago Fire a second time this week and earn another three points in the hunt for the playoffs.

“A great audience, a great opportunity to showcase what we can do on national TV against a rival, back-to-back games, so it should be an exciting game.”

Crew SC and the Chicago Fire kick off at MAPFRE Stadium at 5 p.m. on Sunday. Get your tickets here.

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