I looked at the Columbus Crew on Monday and gave you both reasons to like and dislike them in their run to the MLS Cup title. Today is their opponent's turn in the spotlight.
Why they will win MLS Cup: Chicago is due, long overdue to win an MLS Cup. They won in '98 and surprised many, then failed in 2000 and 2003 and haven't had a sniff since. Chicago is a proud franchise and has compiled several US Open Cup titles but the MLS Cup title is what they desire. And for previous champions, that desire goes a long way.
Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Brian McBride are talented veterans who are rather unstoppable when they are on. With their two key players leading the way, Chicago has experience to spare. Chris Rolfe has done well to carry over his blistering end-of-season performance into the playoffs while the defense has had its resurgence. Gonzalo Segares and Wilman Conde proved they are as adept offensively as they are in the backline.
Chicago also is one of the best road teams in the league. The Fire were matched only by the Crew for their road success as the two teams held identicaly 6-5-4 records. Chicago were also the highest-scoring road team in the Eastern Conference. The road has been kind to Chicago and will continue to do so.
Why they won't win MLS Cup: As good as Chicago's road performances were this season, the club will have the daunting task of winning a conference final on the road. Chicago reached this same round in this same scenario in both 2005 and 2007 and lost, both times by 1-0 at New England. Overall, the Fire have a 4-11-2 road all-time road record in MLS playoff games. Chicago will have history against them and must hope the team's road performance improves if they are even to reach MLS Cup.
Blanco, McBride and Rolfe seem solid but can the club get production from other sources in the postseason? How balanced can this squad be the rest of the way? Did they already blow their wad with goals from defenders in the first round?
Goalkeeper Jon Busch was strong during the regular season but is limited in his playoff experience. He was in goal for Columbus in 2004 when the Crew last reached the playoffs and went out in the first round. Busch is going to have to show that his Goalkeeper of the Year award was handed out to the right goalkeeper.