BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – The Chicago Fire are quite familiar with the Columbus Crew attack.
In fact, when Fire defender Gonzalo Segares watches Federico Higuaín navigate the opposing defense and play passes through to speedster Dominic Oduro, it's like he's watching the Fire attack of a year ago, when Oduro would run onto Sebastián Grazzini's through-balls.
“The key for us is Higuaín,” Segares said. “He seems a lot like Grazzini when he was here with Dom. I think we know what Dominic brings. He's a threat with his speed … [Higuaín] comes and drifts behind the holding mids, far enough from the defenders but not as close to the midfielders. He finds those little pockets that are really dangerous.”
After seeing limited playing time at the end of last season, when Grazzini was gone, Oduro has found plenty of success after an offseason trade to the Crew. The Ghanaian has started all six games this season and has scored three times, including two goals in the last two games.
When the Crew visit Toyota Park on Saturday (8:30 pm ET, FREE Stream of the Week on MLSsoccer.com), Higuain and Oduro will challenge a Fire backline that has suffered its fair share of lapses without veteran Arne Friedrich holding down the middle of the defense. Center backs Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry, both 24 years old, have been learning to play together on the job along with Wells Thompson, a natural midfielder playing right back.
The Fire have allowed a league-worst 12 goals in six games this season, and many of those have been preventable.
“I just think we need to be more focused for 90 minutes,” coach Frank Klopas said. “[Anibaba and Berry are] gaining a lot of experience, but you have to do more than one thing. Following your man, seeing where the ball is, making decisions, all that stuff.”
The key on Saturday will be limiting Higuain's time on the ball while still paying attention to Oduro, who the Fire know will be trying to slide in behind the back line. For a young Fire defensive corps, that'll be a complicated give-and-take.
“We've got to be better at communicating throughout the whole team,” Berry told MLSsoccer.com. “We know [Oduro will be] trying to stretch the field, so me and Jalil always have to be communicating well, making sure he's not getting in behind us. With Higuaín, we need to make sure he's not getting on the ball. We need to make sure we're stepping with him if he gets the ball in the midfield.”