Final
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Fire-Crew Preview

Jul 2, 2010 - 6:38 PM By BRETT HUSTON STATS Writer

Chicago (4-3-5) at Columbus (7-2-3), 8:00 p.m. EDT

Both the Columbus Crew and the Chicago Fire returned from the World Cup break with victories, with the Fire's result extending their unbeaten streak to five consecutive games.

Based on their recent history, they might have to settle for a point apiece Saturday night.

Columbus and Chicago's last five regular-season meetings have ended in draws, but the Fire could be hard-pressed to extend their unbeaten streak against a Crew team that's won five of six matches at home.

Chicago (4-3-5) had tied three of its past four games heading into the break, and returned from the 18-day layoff with an impressive effort. Marco Pappa's goal in the 30th minute Sunday at New England was all the Fire needed in a 1-0 win, their first on the road since April 17.

"We call this a new season for us after the break," midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. "It started really well, and hopefully we can keep it up throughout the remainder of the games. If we play like we played tonight we'll be among the best in the league."

The five-game run without a loss is Chicago's longest since beginning last season 5-0-6.

The Fire can win consecutive road games for the first time since May 24-28, 2009, but they couldn't ask for a much tougher venue in which to do so. Columbus (7-2-3) has the best home record in the Eastern Conference at 5-1-0.

The Crew seemed rejuvenated after their three-week layoff Saturday at home against D.C. United. Guillermo Barros Schelotto scored a goal that appeared to deflect off his right fist, then assisted on Eric Brunner's strike in a 2-0 victory that snapped Columbus' three-match winless streak (0-2-1).

"If that had been me, it would have been a foul and a red card, but Guillermo got a goal and a pat on the back," midfielder Robbie Rogers said. "But we were going to score no matter what. We had the momentum and we were creating chances. If we didn't score then, we would have scored another time."

Questionable or not, the goal was Schelotto's team-high fifth, but first in five games. He scored twice in the Crew's most recent meeting with Chicago, a 2-2 draw at Toyota Park on Sept. 20.

That was the fifth consecutive tie between the clubs in the regular season, four of which have ended 2-all. The last victory in the series was on Nov. 13, 2008, when Columbus overcame a first-half goal by former star Brian McBride to win 2-1 at Crew Stadium in the Eastern Conference finals.

McBride is second on the Fire with four goals, two behind Pappa. The Guatemalan midfielder, however, has four of his six in Chicago's last three games.

Columbus defender Frankie Hejduk (strained hamstring) could be back in the lineup for the first time since May 20, while midfielder Danny O'Rourke (quadriceps) may also return.