Columbus Crew SC (11-8-6) hits the road for the second time this week, heading north to face the Chicago Fire (6-15-5) as the two clubs meet for the third time this season on Thursday, Aug. 23 at 7 p.m. ET.
In their last meeting on May 12, Crew SC defeated Chicago 3-0 at MAPFRE Stadium. A penalty kick opener from midfielder Federico Higuain and a brace from forward Gyasi Zardes helped Columbus extend its then-unbeaten streak to five matches.
Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter mentioned how Crew SC's attitude is critical to coming away from Toyota Park with a positive result.
"I think it’s our mindset," Berhalter said on Columbus' chances for success come Thursday. "Understanding what the opponent’s going to be like mentally. Understanding that they will bring the intensity, they will be in a mode where they want to get a win and we have to match that – I think that’s the key to the game."
In terms of recent play, Crew SC took on Atlanta United FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Aug. 19, falling 3-1 and snapping a three-game win streak. Zardes produced Columbus’ only goal in the 50th minute on a hard-hit strike from 20 yards out off the feed from captain Wil Trapp.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Fire are coming off of a late defeat at Montreal last Saturday, suffering their ninth straight loss in Major League Soccer. In that fixture, the Fire featured a 3-4-2-1 lineup with Bastian Schweinsteiger starting at center back, a glimpse of their versatility and willingness to change things up.
"They like to move guys into position in a more controlled manner, and I think Schweinsteiger is the tempo-bearer for them," Trapp said. "[Schweinsteiger] and Dax McCarty as well are always trying to get on the ball and create things for those ahead of them, and they have a striker in Nikolic who last year was the Golden Boot winner and can score a lot of goals. So it’s just about making sure we’re in good defensive positions, posturing side to side, and winning balls when we can."
With the Fire in the midst of a downturn, every match is a must-win opportunity for Chicago. For Crew SC, Thursday's match stands as a way to continue solidifying a top-six Conference finish as we approach the final two months of the regular season.
"For them, it’s one of those games they have to win, and for us, it’s also a huge match for us, so we feel like we can hurt them in a lot of ways, it’s just executing with high intensity, high tempo, and just executing the chances we get," Trapp said.
Chicago holds the all-time series record, 24-19-18, while each time has totaled two wins in the last four match-ups. Additionally, Chicago ranks tied for last in MLS in total shots (261) while conceding the second-most goals in the League with 51, including 23 at Toyota Park.
Following Thursday's match, the Black & Gold return home to host New York City FC on Saturday, Sept. 1, as two of the conference's top-four teams prepare for an 8 p.m. ET kickoff at MAPFRE Stadium.