Despite being a man up for the entire second half, the Chicago Fire were only able to share the spoils with the Columbus Crew to open the 2019 Carolina Challenge Cup.
Recent US Men’s National Team debutant Djorde Mihailovic opened the scoring after 16 minutes when he linked up with Aleksandar Katai who was fouled in the buildup, but Mihailovic took advantage of the referee letting play develop to produce a crisp first time finish into the bottom corner. It was only ten minutes later on 26′ that Waylon Francis found Gyasi Zardes with a pinpoint cross from the edge of the box to level the scoring.
Wil Trapp was given his marching orders for a studs up challenge on Fire defender Diego Campos on 31′, but despite a number of chances, neither team would find the go-ahead goal and would ultimately share the points.
The Columbus Crew’s Justin Meram created his team’s first chance when his low cross on 11′ was cut out and put behind for a corner before it could reach Gyasi Zardes, but the opportunity was wasted as the ball was cleared.
A few minutes later, Gyasi Zardes would go clean through on the left of the box, see the onrushing frame of David Ousted, and attempt to lob him, before the Chicago ‘keeper would make himself big, claim the ball and avoid the outside of the box while he batted the ball down.
Good build up from the Fire down the other end on 16′ found Aleksandar Katai in a tight space, before he was taken down by the onrushing Columbus defense, but he was able to get a pass off to Djorde Mihailovic, who looked up before firing a shot into the bottom corner.
It was well worked by the Fire, and finished off by a player that looked full of confidence coming off of his first minutes for his country back in January. After a difficult time with injury in 2018, early 2019 shows signs of something special for Mihailovic.
But Columbus quickly struck back. Waylon Francis found Gyasi Zardes in space just ten minutes later, and this time the forward would finish the job, with a downward header past Ousted in the Chicago goal. It was the kind of goal that made him so dangerous in 2018, and Saturday was no different.
But the Crew were up against it again as just after half an hour, Wil Trapp, who captained the National side on multiple occasions in 2018, was sent off for a suds up challenge on defender Diego Campos. Trapp looked to have initially won a piece of the ball, but after the follow through sent Campos to the turf, the referee showed no hesitation and gave Trapp his marching orders.
Bastian Schweinsteiger picked up a knock in the waning minutes of the half and was replaced by Fabian Herbers as the two teams came out for the second 45, likely not wanting to take chances with two weeks until the start of the season.
Mihailovic was again at the center of things after receiving a pull back on 54′ at the top of the box, but his curling effort went wide of the far post.
A 60th minute Chicago corner was cleared away by Columbus, before the ball was fired back in on goal from the edge of the box, but it went wide without causing any trouble to the Crew goal.
There were a number of substitutions in the minutes that followed, and the game understandably lulled as a result, yet there was one more chance to be had, and it came for the Crew.
Columbus would win the ball back in midfield before breaking down the left with pace with around ten minutes to go. However, the cross in would be behind Zardes and eventually cleared.
And that’s how it finished. The Crew and Fire would share the points, which played into the hands of the two other teams to play after them. FC Cincy would win the second game of the night, putting them on top of the standings after matchday one.
The tournament continues Wednesday, February 20th, when Chicago play FC Cincinnati and Columbus face the Charleston Battery.
ALL PHOTOS CREDIT ROSS ALERS PHOTOGRAPHY