Columbus fans waiting for their team to break back into the win column finally got their reprieve on Saturday. After winning its first three games of the season, the Crew were winless in its last eight ahead of today’s visit from Chicago, a stretch that extended back to the team’s March 30 win in Seattle. After early goals from Ethan Finlay and Jairo Arrieta, however, Columbus earned its must sought after win, the 2-0 victory bringing the Crew’s record to a tidy 4-4-4 on the year.
In contrast, the Fire suffered their third defeat of the season, a result that will be particularly disappointing given who Gregg Berhalter had to start in defense. With all four of his normal starters our of the lineup, the Columbus coach started an improved back line that forced normal right midfielder Hector Jimenez to right back. Chad Barson, Tyson Wahl, and Eric Gehrig filled the other spots. Thanks to a strong day from the Crew midfield, however, that back line was left unscathed come the final whistle, giving up only four shots on target as Steve Clark kept his second clean sheet of the season.
The star of the game, as is usually the case in Columbus matches, was Federico Higuain, who built on last week’s MLS Player of the Week performance by collection two assists. With both helpers coming off through balls from high up the field, Higuain exploited the problem that continues to undermine Chicago’s season: The Fire’s rebuilt defense. Frank Yallop made wholesale changes to the corps he inherited from Frank Klopas, but to this point in the season, the remodel has backfired. Only Montréal and FC Dallas have given up more goals (though Dallas has played three additional games).
Only four points out of a playoff spot, Chicago’s been given time to solve its problems. If Yallop finds the right combination at the back, the Fire should have enough firepower to challenge for a postseason spot.
But having seen how the team does with Patrick Ianni starting in place of Bakary Soumaré, perhaps the Fire’s problems are less about combinations than personnel. Maybe Yallop should have found a way to keep Austin Berry in the fold, if for no other reason than to have an option until the back line was settled.