The Columbus Crew matched Major League Soccer’s best team for 75 minutes Sunday before losing 3-1 at Atlanta United.
Their task now is to not stumble again versus the second-worst team when the Crew (11-8-6, 39 points) play the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill., on Thursday.
The Fire (6-15-5, 23 points) have been outscored 20-9 during a club-record eight-game losing streak. Only the San Jose Earthquakes have fewer points (17).
“We know it’s a difficult opponent in a difficult time who is also a dangerous opponent,” Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said.
Chicago won the first meeting this season 1-0 at home on April 7. The Crew responded with a 3-0 victory in Columbus on May 12.
The Crew had won three straight prior to the Atlanta match.
Wins have not been as forthcoming for the Fire. Their last was June 30 against New York City FC and they are 1-8-3 since June 2.
Chicago was ready to grab a point against Montreal on Saturday before the Impact’s Daniel Lovitz scored in the first minute of second-half stoppage time to claim a 2-1 victory.
“We believe we still have a chance, still have time to recover and fight back and have a great comeback in the eight games that are left,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We truly believe that’s possible.
“At some point it’s going to change because we are consistent with our effort, consistent with our desire to turn things around. I believe completely in this group.”
However, frustration is growing for the Fire.
“It’s not easy for us because we put in a lot of effort,” Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger said. “Of course, we made mistakes on the field, but we always try to give our best. We don’t reward ourselves for our effort.”
Nemanja Nikolic has scored a team-best 11 goals for Chicago. Columbus is led by Gyasi Zardes’ 15 goals.
—Field Level Media