This game matters. It matters because of the fans, the bragging rights, and the history. Not because of one-off trophies or internet smack talk. When the Crew and the Fire take the field against each other, a battle is about to be fought.
The first battle of the 2012 MLS season is tonight, 7:00 pm, at Hunt Park. Chicago is currently only three points above the Crew in the standings. The two teams have 15 and 12 points respectively.
Both teams are playing in their third game this week. Chicago is coming off a 2-1 home win against FC Dallas on Wednesday; the same day, the Crew beat the Sounders in Seattle, 2-0.
Columbus’ injury report is just as long as usual. Milovan Mirosevic is still out after missing the Seattle game with a groin injury. Crew veterans Chad Marshall and Danny O’Rourke are both out.
The Crew’s starting XI could stay the same, feature a few changes, or be drastically different than the one used on Wednesday. The back four should remain intact, except this article suggests a possible rest for outside backs Sebastian Miranda and Nemanja Vukovic. With the next MLS game still four weeks away, the rest should not be necessary unless Robert Warzycha has plans to use his starters in the early rounds of the U.S. Open Cup. I’m all for using your first eleven for the USOC, but I don’t think Warzycha can risk starting two new defenders against Chicago, especially since the back four has been so solid the past couple games.
Forward Emilio Renteria struggled holding the ball against the Sounders, but he did pick up his first goal and assist of the season. His confidence should be at its highest of the season. Midfielder/forward Justin Meram has scored a goal in each of the Crew’s past three games. Expect him, Dilly Duka, and Eddie Gaven to attempt to probe the Fire’s defense.
Chicago’s attack is lead by forward Dominic Oduro. He is leading the team with four goals, and his pace can be deadly. Josh Williams and Carlos Mendes have to be aware of him at all times. Left midfielder Marco Pappa is extremely dangerous, both when shooting and when setting his teammates up. Pappa has three goals and three assists. Midfielder Patrick Nyarko brings more speed to the right wing. Veteran Logan Pause holds down the center of midfield. Goalie Sean Johnson can make acrobatic saves, but he is known to make a few mental errors every once in a while.
Prediction: Crew 3-2 Fire
Columbus is coming off their first ever win against Seattle. Their defense has continued to improve, and their offense has finally started scoring goals. This is their first game against their biggest rival, in front of their home crowd. There will be goals, but the Crew will win.