Drilling down on: at Chicago 2, Columbus 1

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Man of the Match: There may be a couple of players about on par with Chris Rolfe right now, but there is no one in MLS playing any better. Rolfe looked lively right from kickoff, the pivot point in Chicago’s 4-2-3-1. Both of  his first half goals were beauties, the first a couple of precise and classy touches, the second a sneaky, opportunistic strike that Crew ‘keeper Andy Gruenebaum didn’t see coming. Both were goals hit by a man who is clearly carrying extra stores of confidence.

Packaged for take-away:

  • The Fire has won seven of its last eight. That’s just getting it done. Certainly related …
  • Rolfe has seven goals in Chicago’s last nine games.
  • Rolfe’s first-time volley off a designed free kick to an area at the far post about 20 yards for goal came tantalizingly close to being No. 3 on the night for Chicago’s attacking midfielder. And what a stunning goal that would have been.
  • This was a fun match to witness, with both teams pushing for goals right away. Alex, one of Chicago’s holding midfielders, banged one off the crossbar inside three minutes. And we were off and running from there.
  • Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson has shown already this year that he can bounce back from a huge mistake. Well, he got another chance on a chilly night at Toyota Park, where his sloppy pass became a gift for Columbus, turning into an early Crew goal.
  • Johnson recovered just fine, apparently, handling everything else well enough.
  • Jalil Anibaba was determined to get forward and supply crosses from his right side, but those centering passes arrived to little effect. His crosses are sharp, but they lack enough definition and purpose.
  • Columbus main main Federico Higuain, not getting the production he was in August, is showing some signs of frustration – like the time he waylaid a camera at midfield, an expensive piece of equipment that had never done anything to him!
  • Late in the match, Columbus players had chances to feed their key creator, but inexplicably bypassed him or held the ball, looking to make the incisive pass themselves. No offense to any of them – but none of them are Federico Higuain.
  • Emelio Renteria, not seen much since the summer arrivals of Higuain and Jairo Arrieta, got on the field Saturday, although in a different role. Crew coach Robert Warcycha had Renteria stationed along the right. The problem is, he can’t defend. Instead, he had to foul, and that will become costly if we get more of that kind of arrangement.
  • Chicago center back Arne Friedrich just looks more and more comfortable, even picking his spots to join the attack. He and rookie center back Austin Berry have quietly become one of the league’s top center back pairings. They gave Columbus precious few opportunities inside the 18 until the final 10 minutes or so, when the desperate visitors tossed caution aside and poured numbers forward.
  • Rolfe and Sherjill MacDonald combined wonderfully in the 62nd minute, setting up Alvaro Fernadnez for a header just in front of goal — with Gruenebaum out of the play and a gaping, wide-open net. He header from 6 yards was at nearly top speed, but it’s still one that Fernandez absolutely has to finish. Even Crew defender Julius James seemed to have a little sympathy for the Fire midfielder on that one.
  • With so much attention necessarily given to Rolfe and to MacDonald in the middle, Patrick Nyarko usually had lots of room to work the right side. And work it he did, to big effect. Nyarko showed Saturday he still has a place in a team that’s been largely remade through the summer.