COLUMBUS CREW STADIUM
7:30 pm ET (HDNet; CSN-Chi)
An absolute six-pointer awaits the Eastern Conference sides at Crew Stadium, with the home side become more and more desperate to take maximum points if they are to reach the MLS Cup Playoffs. The game against the Chicago Fire is essentially a must-win contest for Columbus: Trailing the fourth-place Fire by 12 points with seven matches (and 21 potential points available), a Crew loss and a Kansas City win suddenly leaves last year's Supporters Shield winner with just a combination of three points lost or won by the Fire and Wizards from playoff elimination.
REFEREE: Erich Simmons. SAR (bench): Craig Lowry; JAR (opposite): Richard Eddy; 4th: Marcel Yonan
MLS Career: 17 games; FC/gm: 33.3; Y/gm: 4.4; R: 7; pens: 2
Games involving Crew: P2 W1 L1 T0; FC/gm: 33.0; Y/gm: 3.0; R: 1; pens: 0
Games involving Fire: P3 W1 L0 T2; FC/gm: 34.7; Y/gm: 2.7; R: 4; pens: 0
INJURY REPORT: COLUMBUS CREW - OUT: DF Stephen Herdsman (L groin strain); DF Ryan Kelly (R knee sprain); MF Duncan Oughton (R knee surgery); MD Ross Paule (post-concussion syndrome); GK Jon Busch (R knee) ... CHICAGO FIRE: OUT: MF Craig Capano (L torn ACL surgery); DF Leonard Griffin (abdominal strain); MF Scott Buete (R fifth metatarsal fracture surgery); GK Matt Pickens (L ankle sprain); PROBABLE: DF Tony Sanneh (R ankle sprain); FW Nate Jaqua (L ankle bone bruise)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
WARNINGS: CLB: Simon Elliott (19 CP) ... CHI: Gonzalo Segares (20 CP)
ALL-TIME (26 meetings): Crew 8 wins (0 shootout), 42 goals ... Fire 13 wins (1 shootout), 43 goals ... 5 draws
AT COLUMBUS: (13 meetings): Crew 5 wins (0 shootout), 26 goals ... Fire 5 wins (1 shootout), 19 goals ... 3 draws
The two Eastern Conference rivals meet for the third time this season, the second in Columbus, with one more encounter between the clubs still ahead. They'll meet for the final time in league play Oct. 8 at Soldier Field.
The Fire won the first meeting between the clubs, claiming a 2-0 victory in Columbus, before the teams played to a 1-1 in Chicago in their last match.
Justin Mapp caused the home side fits as the visiting Fire posted a 2-0 victory at Crew Stadium on April 30, their first win in Columbus in more than three years. He gave Chicago the lead after just 14 minutes drifting across the top of the area from the right before unleashing a wicked low blast inside the left corner of Jon Busch's goal.
Then in the second half a defensive miscue doubled the Fire lead. Pressure caused Columbus captain Robin Fraser to lose the ball in his own penalty area, and rookie Chris Rolfe quickly punished the error in pounding a shot past Busch for his second goal on the season (69).
On July 16 at Soldier Field, the Crew gained a point in Robert Warzycha's first game in charge after the dismissal of Greg Andrulis, though their winless streak was still extended to six games as the Fire ran their own unbeaten streak to six matches.
Rookie Eric Vasquez - making his professional debut - put the visitors into the lead after 54 minutes with a piledriver struck from well outside the area.
But just eight minutes later the Fire hit for the leveler through some free kick magic from Justin Mapp, whipping a curling effort right over the end of the wall and inside Jonny Walker's right-hand post.
Here's Dave Sarachan's team (4-4-2): Zach Thornton - Logan Pause, C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin, Gonzalo Segares (Jack Stewart 64) - Will John, Scott Buete (Will Johnson 46), Jesse Marsch, Justin Mapp - Chris Rolfe, Lubos Reiter (Andy Herron 67)
Here's Warzycha's team (3-4-2-1): Jonny Walker - Chad Marshall, Chris Wingert, Mark Schulte - Chris Henderson, Simon Elliott, Eric Vasquez, David Testo (Jamal Sutton 84) - Danny Szetela (Mario Rodriguez 72), Kyle Martino (Cornell Glen 72) - Knox Cameron
A year ago, the Crew won three of the four meetings between the clubs with the fourth ending in a draw. The Black-and-Gold claimed a 3-1 victory at Soldier Field on May 23 (Ralph 49 - Cunningham 32 pen, Martino 55, Ritch 59), then posted a 2-0 triumph on July 3 at home (Buddle 43, Cunningham 44)
The teams then met twice in five days at season's end - first playing to a wild 3-3 draw at Crew Stadium on Oct. 2 (Martino 45 pen, Cunningham 56, 64 - Ralph 14 pen, Herron 59, 80), then the Crew again winning in Chicago on Oct. 6 through the lone goal from Buddle (59).
The Crew have won four of the last seven league meetings between the teams. But they also met last year in the U.S. Open Cup - the Fire winning 2-1 in extra time in the round-of-16 (Hejduk 27 - Ralph 66 pen, 106+)
The Fire's win in the first meeting this year spanned a five-game winless run in the Ohio capital, since a 2-0 Chicago win on opening day in 2002 (0-2).
Coaches record: Robert Warzycha v CHI: P1 W0 L0 D1 ... Dave Sarachan vs. CLB: P10 W2 L4 D4
The Columbus Crew had their three-game winning streak put to an end last weekend, falling 3-1 to the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium. The Crew are running out of time to move back into the MLS Cup Playoffs picture, with 30 points from 25 matches, now 12 points out of fourth place in the Eastern Conference with seven games left (though they have a game in hand on the fourth-place Chicago Fire), still seven points behind the fifth-place MetroStars.
The Revolution showed what a force they can be when they have their full squad available, rolling to a comprehensive 3-1 victory against the Columbus Crew, leaving the playoff hopes for the visitors in dire peril.
Twellman scored his 12th, 13th and 14th goals of the campaign - all from crosses - as he moved two ahead of United's Jaime Moreno in the race for the MLS Golden Boot.
Twellman put the Revs ahead after six minutes with a wonderful goal. A quick turnover found Steve Ralston on the right flank, and his pinpoint cross found Twellman at the far post where he sent a picture-perfect diving header past Jonny Walker.
The St. Louis native doubled the Revolution lead in the 39th minute, Ralston again sending in a cross that took the slightest of touches from Clint Dempsey. Twellman fought his way past Chad Marshall and toe-poked the ball home past a surprised Walker from close range.
Twellman then completed his second hat trick of the campaign just after the hour, Jay Heaps flighting a cross from the right that the 25-year-old headed home over Crew defender Robin Fraser (63). Frankie Hejduk pulled a goal back for Columbus four minutes from the end, heading home a Simon Elliott free kick, but it was far too late.
Crew boss Robert Warzycha made one change to the team that defeated Chivas USA 3-0 at The Home Depot Center the previous weekend. Kyle Martino came back from suspension, coming in for Marcus Storey in the three-pronged attack.
Here's Warzycha's team (3-4-2-1): Jonny Walker - Chad Marshall, Robin Fraser, Mark Schulte - Chris Henderson (Frankie Hejduk 78), Simon Elliott, Danny Szetela (Eric Vasquez 84), David Testo - Kyle Martino, Cornell Glen (Knox Cameron 78) - John Wolyniec
"You shouldn't ask me, you should ask the players on the field. I mean, seriously, the first goal and the third goal ... we have to do a better job of marking," Warzycha said. " ... I think it's better that they scored in the sixth minute than in the 40th minute because then you have time to recover. So, I said after that, maybe we were going to wake up and play better and actually we did."
The loss makes every single point ever so valuable for the Crew. They have 21 points available, meaning if they were to win out they would reach 51. The Kansas City Wizards and Chicago Fire have 42, so any combination of nine points won by those teams and potential points lost by Columbus eliminates them from the playoffs - a margin that would be reduced by three with a Fire win on Saturday (as well as a K.C. win).
"It was difficult a week ago, it was difficult two weeks ago, and it was difficult three weeks ago. And now, it's even more difficult. We have to win the games," Warzycha said. "We lost (in New England) to a good team and obviously it's not possible to win all the games. Sometimes you lose and New England has a good team. I think they're a better team than we are. We lost the game on the field, it's not the end of the world."
Added goalkeeper Jonny Walker: "I think the better team won. They collectively played much better than we did for, I say, 83 minutes of the 90 and the result is fair, it's just. They played extremely well tonight. I don't think it was our greatest effort. But it's not the end of the world. I think there's still a possibility for us to qualify. So, next week we go back to the win-or-die games."
U.S. international Frankie Hejduk again didn't start against the Revolution, and the Crew veteran said he wasn't sure why he wasn't in the first team. Warzycha said it was nothing personal. "I decided not to play him," Warzycha said to The Columbus Dispatch. "The chemistry was good. We won two games without him away from home. I didn't want to change."
Warzycha added that his 3-4-3 scheme had something to do with it: "He plays right back for the national team. We play three forwards," he said to the Dispatch. "If we played four in the back, he probably would have played." Said Hejduk: "I don't know what the problem is, what the deal is. I was ready to go. It was his call. He chose not to play me."
The Chicago Fire return to league action after another gap of nearly two weeks, having played just one league contest since Aug. 20. In their last MLS match, the Fire went to The Home Depot Center and came away with a 2-1 victory against the Los Angeles Galaxy. Still, they now find themselves tied for third place in the Eastern Conference with 42 points from 26 matches (with the Kansas City Wizards), two points behind D.C. United and nine behind leaders New England Revolution, leading the fifth-place MetroStars by five points in the race for the final playoff spot.
Justin Mapp took out his disappointment on being released from the U.S. national team in advance of the weekend victory against Mexico, leading the Fire to victory on Sept. 4 against the Galaxy in Carson, their second home loss in a row.
Mapp set up the game's opening goal when he danced into the Galaxy half and played forward to Chad Barrett, who slipped a nifty pass to Chris Rolfe. The rookie calmly curled his shot inside Kevin Hartman's right-hand post for his sixth goal on the campaign (11).
But Herculez Gomez pulled the Galaxy level just 13 minutes later as Ned Grabavoy intercepted a pass and knocked it forward, and Gomez drilled a low shot home from just outside the Chicago penalty area.
Yet two minutes deep into second-half stoppage time, Mapp skipped through nearly the entirety of the Galaxy defense before slotting home inside the far post from the left side of the area to give the Galaxy back-to-back home losses for the first time ever since the opening of the Home Depot Center.
"I want to thank Bruce Arena for releasing Justin," Fire coach Dave Sarachan said. "Bruce and I are good friends, and we talk. He said to me that there was a chance (Mapp's releasing from camp) could happen. Justin's on his radar screen but maybe he's not quite ready for this level of World Cup qualifying."
Sarachan made four changes to the team that was hammered 3-0 by the Kansas City Wizards at Arrowhead Stadium on Aug. 19. Zach Thornton remained in goal after Matt Pickens was injured in that match, while Samuel Caballero and Ivan Guerrero returned to the back four in place of Jim Curtin and C.J. Brown. Chad Barrett also got a start in attack, replacing Chris Armas, who was away on international duty.
Here's Sarachan's team (4-3-1-2): Zach Thornton - Logan Pause, Samuel Caballero, Gonzalo Segares, Ivan Guerrero - John Thorrington (Will John 86), Jesse Marsch, Justin Mapp - Thiago (Jack Stewart 79) - Chris Rolfe, Chad Barrett (Will Johnson 74).
"It was really a tremendous team effort. I was very pleased with the start of the game and the end of the game. There were moments when we were a little sloppy, but we put a big emphasis on discipline and that proved to be quite good for us," Sarachan said. "When you start the game and end the game the way we did, that's very encouraging. Coming away with three points at the Home Depot Center is never easy."
Despite the long layoff and the third of a five-game road swing, the Fire came away with a quality victory.
"We had a great start and a great finish. A couple dodgy moments in between," Sarachan said. "We had a pretty good week of training and we were well prepared. Our concentration and our awareness was there. A lot of people want to make out that there is this huge disadvantage on the road, but we're used to it. We're (currently) on the road for 56 days."
Mapp once again showed the kind of ability he has to grab hold of a match and provide the difference needed for a victory.
"I just figured, 92nd minute, everybody is pretty tired. I figured I had to dig deep and try to do something. I don't score too much so it's probably one of the bigger ones I've scored. It was a good week, with the national team early in the week and I got in some good training," Mapp said. "It would have been nice to be on the bench for Mexico but I kind of figured. It's only my second national team camp, it was a big game and you look at the reality of things."
If the Fire are going to make any noise in the MLS Cup Playoffs, Sarachan knows Zach Thornton will have to round into form. Of the first-choice 'keepers for the 10 non-expansion teams, Thornton has the poorest goals against average.
"The challenge is for Zach to be a leader of this team and step up and make the big saves in the big moments," Sarachan said. "He certainly had a few of those tonight."
The time off has allowed the Fire to get back some of their injured weapons - most noticeably in attack. Nate Jaqua has returned from a bone bruise that had kept him out since mid-June, while Andy Herron and Lubos Reiter are also again available for duty.
"I'm just trying to get back into playing,'' Jaqua said. "I'm still not 100 percent fit. I need to get into the rhythm of playing." Said Sarachan: "I'd say he's a little rusty with his timing and his touch, but not far off. ... A few guys (are) back, like (Andy) Herron, (Lubos) Reiter and Nate. So with Nate, I think he's still a little bit away in terms of his soccer sharpness, but it's encouraging to get him back."
On Wednesday, the Fire saw their bid for a record fourth U.S. Open Cup title ended when they lost 1-0 to FC Dallas in the semifinals at Pizza Hut Park. Ronnie O'Brien scored the game's lone goal in the 20th minute, knocking home his own rebound, and FC Dallas survived playing nearly the final 35 minutes a man down after Simo Valakari received two bookings.
We came into this thinking we could win the game. We felt we had enough chances to win this game," Sarachan said. "... When they went down to 10 men, if we had gotten our first goal I think we would have gotten the second."
Here's Sarachan's team: Zach Thornton, Logan Pause (Tony Sanneh 70), Samuel Caballero, Gonzalo Segares, Ivan Guerrero, John Thorrington (Will Johnson 81), Chris Armas, Jesse Marsch (Thiago 63), Justin Mapp, Lubos Reiter, Chris Rolfe (Andy Herron 70)
On Friday, the Fire announced the signing of midfielder Andy Rosenband to a developmental contract. A product of Ohio State, he was a 2003 draft pick by Dallas, and played with the Fire in three reserve matches. He played last winter with the Chicago Storm of the indoor MISL.