Columbus Crew SC

Fire pick up second win with shutout of Columbus

Fire pick up second win with shutout of Columbus

Last week Bastian Schweinsteiger was the story, but Saturday's win against the Columbus Crew was the Dax McCarty show.

McCarty assisted the game-winning goal, had some key defensive plays and helped control the midfield against a possession-oriented Columbus team in a 1-0 win against the Crew.

McCarty, who was named man of the match, slid a through ball to Nemanja Nikolic in the box in the 22nd minute. Nikolic scored his second goal of the season with a first-time low shot that got through goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

"Very, very satisfied with Dax's performance," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "I think every time and every game he is feeling more comfortable and getting in that role that we wanted and expected from him. The leader on and off the field. He is really feeling comfortable. We knew that it was going to take some time, but he's getting to that level."

Schweinsteiger played a much more subdued role than he did in his debut last week, but him and McCarty combined to win the possession battle against a Crew team which entered the match fifth in the league in that category. The Fire had 53 percent of the possession in the first half.

The Fire (2-1-2, 8 points) opened the match in a 3-4-3 formation with Jonathan Campbell, Joao Meira and Johan Kappelhof (back from his red card suspension) manning a three-man defense and having outside defenders Brandon Vincent and Michael Harrington push up higher the field.

Columbus (3-2-1, 10 points) made some halftime adjustments and started the second half as the aggressor. The chess match continued with Paunovic bringing on Drew Conner for Jonathan Campbell 10 minutes into the second half, which moved Vincent and Harrington into defense for a traditional four-man back line.

The Crew had a majority of the possession in the second half and finished with nearly 55 percent possession for the match, but couldn't get on the board.

"I'd say urgency is a good word to use, especially when you're defending a 1-0 lead," McCarty said of the team's defending. "I think there was a little frustration creeping in that we couldn't get the second goal."

The Fire came close to the second goal on a few occasions. A Schweinsteiger free kick just outside the box in the 76th minute forced a full extension save from Steffen. A few minutes later rookie substitute Daniel Johnson was on a breakaway and chipped the ball over Steffen, but Columbus defender Nicolai Naess was able to clear it off the line.

"I would say is a gutsy performance," McCarty said. "It certainly took a lot of heart, a lot of cojones. Certainly it was a very important three points for us because we have one more home game that we need to get another three points and then we go for a really, really tough road trip."

A week after playing a Montreal team without its two best players (Ignacio Piatti and Laurent Ciman) and failing to pick up a win, Columbus came to Toyota Park without Federico Higuain, Jonathan Mensah and Harrison Afful. This time the Fire took advantage and snapped the Crew's three-game winning streak.

Schweinsteiger and McCarty both said the second half wasn't as good as the first half for the Fire, but unlike last week, the Fire held on for the win.

"I hope we can control the game better so that we can enjoy playing football a little bit more," Schweinsteiger said. "At the end of the day, for us it's very important now at the moment to win points. I am happier today than last week when we played a draw. In my eyes we should have won the match. So today I am happy we won the match."

The win moved the Fire into second place in the Eastern Conference, ahead of the rest of Saturday's matches around the league.

Next week the Fire host New England to close out a three-game homestand.

Fire host red-hot Columbus on CSN+

Fire host red-hot Columbus on CSN+

After a disappointing home draw against Montreal last weekend, there is more emphasis for the Chicago Fire to win the remaining two home games in a three-game homestand.

Next up is the Columbus Crew, which the Fire opened the season against with a 1-1 draw in Ohio. Saturday's match against the Crew will air on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 12:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

These next two home games, this one and against New England next Saturday, represent a key opportunity to gather some points before the Fire head out on a three-game road trip against tough opposition (Toronto, New York Red Bulls, LA). Columbus, though, is riding a three-game winning streak and leads the Eastern Conference.

The importance of the games is not lost on Fire coach Veljko Paunovic.

"We believe that we are improving," Paunovic said. "We are still in a good spot and we are building that momentum. It's most important to win our games at home, but building that momentum so we can have a long winning streak and that's what we are looking for. All our energy, all our thoughts are directing towards building that momentum. The momentum that we couldn't build in the past and we were very close. I think we are getting there now, too."

For David Accam, a match against the Crew means seeing some familiar faces. A pair of Accam's countrymen and fellow Ghanaian national team teammates, Harrison Afful and Jonathan Mensah, are on the Crew. Accam, a left wing, goes against Afful, a right back, often during matches and beat Mensah when he scored the Fire's goal in Columbus in March.

"It's cool because I knew these guys since childhood and it's always fun when I go against them," Accam said. "When I scored that goal, [Afful] was like 'You only score like that against us so we need to take our revenge next game.'"

Mensah may not be available due to a hamstring strain. He was not a full participant in training this week. Homegrown player Alex Crognale filled in for Mensah at centerback in last week's 2-0 win against Orlando.

Columbus may have an addition in the form of Kekuta Manneh. The speedy winger was recently acquired in a trade with Vancouver and could make his Crew debut. He could give another weapon to an attack that already features Ola Kamara and Justin Meram, who have three goals each so far this season.

For the Fire, Matt Polster could be making his debut. The midfielder has been working his way back from a knee injury suffered early in the preseason and was a full participant in training this week. He and Luis Solignac, who is dealing with a left knee strain, are both questionable. Juninho will be serving his red card suspension after getting two yellows against Montreal.

Michael de Leeuw had six stiches in his left hand after getting stepped on against Montreal. He was in training this week with a protective glove on his hand, but is still listed as questionable as he regains fitness from a hamstring injury.

The match also is the second game of the Bastian Schweinsteiger era. The Crew are well aware of the Fire's new German midfielder.

"We have to be ready for every time (Schweinsteiger) has the ball, he can make the final pass," defender Nicolai Naess told the Columbus Dispatch. "We have to be ready for everything. We have to look at the video of how they played their last game."

Chicago Fire vs. Columbus Crew

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

TV: CSN+ (channel finder)

When: Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (1-1-2, 5 points), Crew (3-1-1, 10 points)

Fire rally for draw at Columbus in season opener

Fire rally for draw at Columbus in season opener

It is a new season with some new players for the Chicago Fire, but Saturday's game in Columbus still started with a very familiar feel.

The first half was reminiscent of many of the Fire's road matches in 2016. Fall behind early, struggle to keep possession, struggle to get shots on target. The Fire had two shots in the first half, none were on goal.

The second half, though, was a different story and the Fire were able to leave Ohio with a 1-1 draw thanks to a David Accam goal in the 73rd minute.

Columbus got things started early with a great chance in the third minute. A Justin Meram shot from point blank range was hit right at Jorge Bava, who was in position for the save.

The Crew would later take the lead in the 17th minute though. Ethan Finlay headed in a Justin Meram cross to make it 1-0.

In the second half the Fire had some extended periods of possession and had 10 shots, three on target. The Fire, which had 44 percent of the possession in the first half and just over 46 percent in the second half, were able to get on the ball a bit more and put more pressure on Columbus.

That was rewarded when Dax McCarty intercepted a ball just past the halfway line to start an attack. He fed John Goossens, who gave David Accam the ball in the box, allowing him to work his magic. Accam put some moves on fellow Ghanaian Jonathan Mensah to set up his right foot and put a low curled shot out of reach from Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

"I think the main (halftime) message they gave us was believe in ourselves," Accam said in the postmatch interview on the CSN Chicago broadcast. "I know we have a very strong forward lineup and for us we needed one chance."

Both teams had chances in the final 15 minutes as the game opened up down the stretch, but neither could convert. The Fire also had a draw in the first road match of 2016, a 1-1 result in Orlando with another Accam goal, but finished with just one win and one more draw in the remaining 16 road matches.

With midfielder Juninho suspended and his likely replacement Matt Polster still injured, Goossens played in central midfield along with McCarty. Goossens subbed off in the final minute of the match after going down with what appeared to be an ankle or knee injury. In his place was second-year homegrown Drew Conner, who made his brief MLS debut.

The Fire's home opener is next Saturday against Real Salt Lake.