Heading out of the international break and into the final three matches of Columbus Crew SC's 2016 regular season, Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter put it best: “It’s the calm before the storm."
Following a 3-0 rout of the Chicago Fire for Columbus’ regular-season home finale in front of a sellout crowd on October 1, the Black & Gold now must prepare to douse the Fire once again.
“Now it’s time to refocus," Berhalter said. "Three games left. We know it’s going to take a big effort to make the playoffs, but we also know that it’s one game at a time and it starts with Chicago on Thursday.”
The two teams have met twice previously this season, with the first encounter at Toyota Park on March 19. The Eastern Conference rivals played to a scoreless draw, resulting in two defensive shutouts for Crew SC and contributing to its eight total this year.
Captain and defender Michael Parkhurst said David Accam would be Columbus’ biggest challenge defensively and they held him to just one shot last weekend at MAPFRE Stadium.
“Our ability to keep the ball was really good,” he said. “Also, our compact shape made it easier for us in the back. The guys in front of us did a lot of work, as usual. The more work they do and the more predictable they make it for us, the easier it is for us in the back.”
Crew SC was effective in its execution in round two, but the Black & Gold boss says he expects the hosts to make some tweaks this time.
“We expect them to make adjustments,” he said. “We also know they’re a tough team to beat. It’s a difficult team and we know it’s going to be a difficult team in Chicago. They’re going to want to play in front of their home fans and they’re going to want to get something out of the game, so we’re going to have to be focused.”
Columbus has not lost to the Fire in the last eight meetings of the series, but Thursday will be a tough task. Kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m. in Bridgeview, Ill., at Toyota Park. Crew SC then continues its Eastern Conference swing to finish out the regular season on the road with two final matches against New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls.
“It’s go time now and every game is crucial,” Berhalter said.
Crew SC is hosting an official viewing party for the match at Standard Hall presented by Budweiser. The contest will be televised on MyTV Columbus, The CW Columbus, Time Warner Cable SportsChannel and BCSN2.