Right before starting a stretch of three matches in eight days is not a good time to have a rash of injuries and illness.
The Chicago Fire start that stretch Saturday in Columbus, which will be aired on CSN+ with coverage starting at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live (channel finder). On top of longer-term injuries to Brandon Vincent (still out with a quad injury) and Daniel Johnson (left MCL sprain), Arturo Alvarez (lower back), Juninho (left knee), Johan Kappelhof (groin), Dax McCarty (illness) and Michael Harrington (illness) are all listed as questionable.
Alvarez wasn’t on the bench in Kansas City two weeks ago. He was on the list of available substitutes last week against New England, but didn’t play. Alvarez was in training this week.
Juninho and Kappelhof both left practice early on Wednesday after picking up those injuries. After practice that day, coach Veljko Paunovic said he expects those players to be available in Columbus.
McCarty and Harrington were kept away from the team Wednesday after being sick.
“Obviously these guys need some adjustments in their workload,” Paunovic said on Wednesday. “We are aware of where we are right now in the season. Late in the season we have to start working on more individualized program for every player and depending on how they feel in everyday communication and chats with them before training, we determine how we’re going to proceed with each one of them.”
The good news for the Fire on the injury front is that Vincent and John Goossens, who has been out since suffering an ankle injury in the season opener at Columbus, were on the practice field getting workouts in while the team trained. That means those two are nearing returns, although neither are imminent.
Columbus has its own injury issues. Right back Harrison Afful (thigh) and playmaking midfielder Federico Higuain (knee) are both listed as questionable. Columbus Dispatch reporter Andrew Erickson had the latest on the status of Afful and Higuain.
Columbus has been busy in the past week by signing winger Pedro Santos from Portuguese club SC Braga and trading long-time winger Ethan Finlay to Minnesota. Santos is not expected to be available for Saturday’s game.
This will be the third of three meetings between the Fire and the Crew. The season began with a 1-1 draw in Ohio. Just over a month later the Fire picked up a 1-0 win at Toyota Park.
“I expect their same style,” Fire defender Jonathan Campbell said. “I don’t know the formation. I know they switched that some in the back with how many people they’re going with, but they’re at home, I expect them to play out of the back. Kind of the same thing as every time before.”
After playing in Columbus, the Fire play in Montreal on Wednesday and host Toronto in a big Eastern Conference clash three days after that.
The Fire are coming off a ninth straight home win, but have lost two straight on the road. Many teams in the league have drastically different records at home and on the road. The Fire are no exception.
“I think if you figure that out, you could be a pretty good coach,” Campbell said with a laugh. “I’m not quite sure. I think travel might have to do a decent amount with it. Playing in front of the fans has a huge impact, but I think just teams aren’t able to play their style consistently for 90 minutes where at home they’re used to the field, the conditions, the routine. So I just don’t think teams are able to do that consistently for 90 minutes. They might try to do that for the first half, but the second half you kind of get tired and start sitting back more and then it wears down.”
Chicago Fire at Columbus Crew
Where: Mapfre Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
TV: CSN+ (channel finder)
When: Coverage begins at 6 p.m. (Fire Pregame Live)
Records: Fire (12-5-5, 41 points), Crew (10-12-2, 32 points)