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Chicago Fire at Columbus Crew: Match Preview


The first ticket to the 2008 MLS Cup final will be punched tonight when the Chicago Fire face the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference final.

Two of the best teams in MLS all season, the Crew and Fire both bring in loaded lineups in a match-up that is difficult to predict the outcome of. Several of the league’s best midfielders, defenders and goalkeepers will be on display in tonight’s showdown at Crew Stadium.

There is plenty of material out there previewing tonight’s match. Here are some recommendations:

The Chicago Tribune’s Luis Arroyave has a good piece on Wilman Conde. Conde was rather calm in his explanation of his position, but I will say that when I spoke to him in September he sounded like a player who expects to either get a significant pay raise OR a transfer to Mexico or Europe. Sources tell me some Mexican clubs have already expressed interest.

Luis also had a nice comparison of the star playmakers for both teams, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Guillermo Barros Schelotto.

The Columbus Dispatch’s Shawn Mitchell offered up an East Final preview earlier in the week, while also providing a Crew-centric take on tonight’s match in today’s Dispatch.

Now, here is SBI’s detailed breakdown on what you should expect to see tonight:

Here is how the teams are likely to line up tonight:













Here are the top match-ups to watch:

Marshall vs. McBride– The league’s best defender against a dangerous veteran in McBride, who will look to occupy Marshall and let his teammates go after a Crew defense that can be beaten. Even if Marshall wins this battle, his teammates will need to step up big. If Marshall struggles and McBride wins this battle, the Crew will be in trouble.

Conde vs. Schelotto–  The Fire know full well how important Schelotto is to the Crew attack so look for Conde, arguably the most talented defender in MLS, to shadow him and look to shut him down. Conde will do his best, but Schelotto is skillful enough to burn any defense with a well-timed pass.

Rolfe vs. Rogers– It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the player who outperforms the other here will lead his team to victory. Rolfe has been red-hot while Rogers should find a good target to go after in Prideaux. Rolfe will need to track back and offer some support, but he is also too important to the Fire attack to spend too much time in the defensive third.

Hejduk vs. Mapp– One guy is Mr. Energy, the other is Mr. skill (and lack of energy). Will Mapp be able to get going against Hejduk or will Hejduk outwork him and neutralize Mapp? You have to like Hejduk in this match-up, but Mapp just might remind us why he was so highly-regarded in the first place.

Gaven vs. Segares– Much like the above match-up, this one features skill against energy (though Segares is pretty skilled in his own right). Gaven needs to go right at Segares and not only test him defensively, but keep Segares from getting forward on the counter. You have to like Segares in this one, but as I said, the above match-up and this one are a lot alike so maybe Gaven rekindles some of that magic from his teen years.

Blanco vs. Carroll/O’Rourke– Dealing with Cuauhtemoc Blanco isn’t something one person can do so look for both Brian Carroll and Danny O’Rorke to work together to try and neutralize Blanco, who floats up up near the forward line while also spending plenty of time further back. With Marshall there to deal with McBride, O’Rourke must rotate between helping out Gino Padula as well as Carroll. I actually don’t see Blanco having a major impact in the match because the Crew will make sure to keep bodies on him wherever he goes.

The game will hinge in large part on possession and which central midfield can control more of the ball. Sure, both wings are dangerous, but the number of chances each team gets will ultimately come down to their midfields being able to win the possession battle. It’s such a close match-up in the middle that picking a winner is tough.

I will be picking the Fire, and not because Columbus isn’t a good team, but because Chicago’s defense is stronger and capable of neutralizing the Crew’s vaunted attack. Unless Rogers can abuse Prideaux like Dane Richards did Wade Barrett in the New York-Houston series, I don’t see Columbus creating enough chances. Rolfe, Conde and Thorrington are the stars as Chicago pulls out the win.

What do you see happening? Share your thoughts on tonight’s Eastern Conference final in the comments section below.


  1. Derek, Conde not starting the first month or more of the season because of all the drama is what cost him more consideration for MLS Best XI, but you can rest assured that there is no questioning that he is one of the most talented defenders in the league. If you had a league-wide draft I would bet good money that Conde would be among the first defenders taken by almost any team in the league.

  2. One more thing…then I’ll let this go because it is really a minor point.

    Would anyone put Conde on an MLS Best XI for this season? I can think of 5-10 players who’d likely be listed ahead of him. If he isn’t going to make that team, how can he be the most talented defender in the league?

  3. This guy,

    I’ve seen plenty of the Fire…I think Soumare and Segares are arguably more consistent.

    Did you see Conde’s header to Chad Marshall in the box tonight? Great play by the most talented defender in MLS, huh?

  4. Wouldn’t Parkhurst be “arguably the most talented defender in MLS”? Parkhurst isn’t that fast or big, he just does everything right and never fouls.

  5. To describe Conde as “arguably the most talented defender in MLS” seems like a pretty big stretch. He is a good player but I think you could just as easily describe him as arguably the third best defender on the Fire.

  6. Is this game one and done? I thought it was a home and home. Anyways,

    OOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHH, Chi-Cago, Chicago, Chicago, CHICAGO!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. What time does the game come on?


  8. Die hard Crew fan here… Stuck in DC on business travel instead of @ the game (ugh!).

    Headed to Summers in Alexandria to watch tonight – it was recommended by othr Ives readers.

    GO CREW!

    3-1 for the Supporters’ Shield winners!

  9. Lets go C-bus. I know this is kind of unrelated but does anyone else want the crew to win because you’re a fan but want the crew to lose so you can see Robbie Rogers next Wednesday? However I still want the Crew to win.

  10. Ya, RSL may be cakewalk for NYRB….

    Who am I kidding?

    Its going to be cold as hell in SLC this saturday night and the air thins even more when it is cold. Good luck with that.

    RSL v. Crew.

  11. This should be a great match. As an aside, Ives, what on earth is the leagues rationale for playing home and home series in the first round, but then one-offs in the semis? That makes no sense to me.

  12. No Crew lover, but the Crew found ways to win games this year. The supporter’s shield could still jinx them but Sigi’s piss-yellow army looks like they’re onto something special this year. I hope the Nordeke is out here bribing every bar/pub/strip club/bingo hall and bowling alley in Ohio to show the game. This *will* be good and it will be close.

  13. Ives – thanks for the bonus analysis!

    I certainly HOPE the Fire doesn’t let Rogers take on Prideaux alone tonight. But that imbalance is going to keep Rolfe from roaming too far and having the full impact he could have. Then again, Prideaux’s been at RB all season and Rolfe’s had a huge impact during the past few games, even despite the Revs’ speed advantage over Prideaux.

  14. very well put, giaco.

    This should be a match for the ages. RBNY and RSL mean nothing to me. Just about everyone (outside of NY and SL) knows these are the 2 best MLS teams this year. And with the storylines… the emotions… goodness, I’m giddy. Go Fire! a 2-1 win would be perfect.

  15. The Red Bulls did beat the Crew twice (although one was in April and the other came against mostly reserves) and I think is the better match-up, but I’m willing to bet good money that the Red Bulls would like to see Chicago one more time. I know Juan Carlos Osorio would.

  16. Being neutral, I’m just looking for an exciting match. My thinking is that the Fire have too much power with Blanco, Rolfe, and McBride. Mapp could be the x-factor tonight.

  17. The key for Chicago is how active Blanco is. They’ve got the defense to win, but if Blanco doesn’t have the energy, it’ll turn into a Justin Mapp Turnover Drinking Game and Columbus will steal it.

    When matched up, you can see just how much better the Chicago backline is as a whole. Chicago should be champs, but they are more than capable underachievers.

  18. Modibo, Rolfe vs. Rogers doesn’t necessarily mean their head-to-head match-up, it can also mean the match-up in the sense of who makes a bigger impact. It’s no secret that the Fire’s weakest player is Prideaux, and Rogers will be going at him. That is why I think Rolfe vs. Rogers is more worth mentioning. Rolfe will work on Rogers defensively and Rolfe will also attack Padula. Rolfe has the speed and work ethic to be a two-way player tonight and that’s why I think it’s more worth mentioning than Rogers-Prideaux, which isn’t an isolated match-up I see the Fire allowing to happen all that often.

  19. first to 3 goals wins. In all three meet-ups this year (2 league matches and 1 us open cup) each team gave up 2 goals, and the crew gave up the third to lose in the us open cup. So i’ll be on the edge of my seat until one team is up 3 goals.

  20. Normally, I’m pretty rabid blind with passion for my Fire….but I have to say after avoiding the taunting and shenanigans between camps, and looking at the game and teams for what they are…..I have to say that I am genuinely excited about this matchup as a fan of the sport in this country, and not just as a Fire supporter.

    Everyone’s saying that this is arguably the best matchup anywhere of this season, or that it should be the cup final, and I have to agree. I respect what the Crew has done this year on the field (hell of a record, and one HELL of a home record), and I also love to no end my Fire, and their accomplishments are second to none. Couple that with the fact that these 2 teams have never met in the post season, The Fire is the only team unbeaten by Columbus this season, former players from one side on another, internationals and young talents abound…I mean, this match really has everything a fan could want, regardless of who you do or don’t like to come out of it as the last team standing.

    I won’t call it an olive branch of any kind, but good luck Crew/Crew fans, it’s going to be one hell of a night in Columbus tonight, regardless of who wins.

    This contest will be won by the team who’s players show up and make the fewest mistakes, end of. I’m only broken-hearted that I can’t be there tonight—-why oh why are they having a conference championship mid-week?! STOP THE INSANITY!

  21. Ives, how is the matchup on the left Gaven v Segares and the one on the right Rogers v Rolfe? I think you’re giving the Fire the benefit of the doubt there – I shiver when I think of Rogers moving the ball up the wing against “Quikfeet” Prideaux.

    I agree with most of your picks, though Segares v Gaven – Sega gets the nod; Hejduk v Mapp – don’t get me started; etc. A lot will depend on whether the Mr. Hyde side of Blanco shows up – the hardworking crafty and motivated playmaker – or the Dr. Jekyll one – diving, complaining, antagonizing, slow to get up, and frustrating.


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