It’s been nearly four weeks since the Chicago Fire played a home game. Now the Fire will finish the home schedule with two matches at Toyota Park in the next four days.
The first of the final two home games of 2016 will be Thursday against the Columbus Crew. The match will be televised on CSN Chicago with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live. Kickoff is set for just after 7:30 p.m.
These two teams played on Oct. 1 before taking a break for international games. The Crew won 3-0 in Ohio.
“What I expect is a reaction, a reaction from the last game,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “I think the last game, losing against one of our rivals that are very, very important for our supporters, the performance wasn’t good, especially in the second half.”
This is the fourth meeting between the two teams this season. The first was a scoreless draw on March 19 at Toyota Park. The Fire (6-16-9, 27 points) knocked the Crew (8-12-11, 35 points) out of the U.S. Open Cup with a 2-1 win also at Toyota Park on June 28.
The familiarity plus the most recent meeting being the last game for both teams means there shouldn’t be many surprises at this point.
“We’re pretty much expecting what they threw at us in that last game,” Fire defender Jonathan Campbell said. “It worked well for them. Obviously you don’t want to do the exact same thing, you’ll maybe change a few things, probably see a few different people, but I imagine the tactics would be about the same. I wouldn’t expect too much of a change from them.”
The Fire have no names on the injury report, but could be without David Accam. The Ghanaian is returning from national team duty. He came off the bench and played the second half in a 1-1 draw at South Africa in a friendly. Traveling over an ocean the day before a game to return means Accam will likely be limited, if at all available, for Thursday against the Crew.
Harrison Afful, Columbus’ right back and Accam’s teammate with Ghana, scored the opening goal against the Fire on Oct. 1 and could also miss out.
Columbus is still alive in the playoff race, although anything other than a win at Toyota Park would end those chances. In addition to being able to eliminate their rival, the Fire are pushing to avoid becoming the first team to finish last place in MLS in back-to-back seasons. Paunovic said he expects his team to play with pride in an effort to finish the season “on a positive side.”
“I know it’s tough, we’re not going to make the playoffs, but I think we’re just trying to build something for next year,” Campbell said. “You never know who’s going to return, but if you have a core group of guys returning we can build something in these last three games. When we come back for next season that’s what we’re looking to build upon.”
Chicago Fire vs. Columbus Crew
When: 7:30 p.m. (coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live)
Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.