D Ellis leads Fire into road match vs. Crew

It’s neither Major League Soccer 2017 scoring leader Nemanja Nikolic nor German World Cup champion Bastian Schweinsteiger that is carrying a two-match goal streak for the Chicago Fire.

No, the Fire (3-4-2) are getting production from an unlikely source in veteran defender Kevin Ellis, who will try to add to his total Saturday at surging Columbus Crew SC (5-3-3).

The Crew are 2-0-2 in their past four games and have consecutive shutouts, including a 1-0 victory over the visiting Philadelphia Union on Wednesday. That followed a 0-0 tie at Seattle Sounders FC last Saturday.

“It feels good and it goes to show how hard the guys work in front of me,” Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen said. “I’m really proud of the effort that the guys gave, being our second game in four days.”

While the Crew’s focus might be on thwarting the top Fire attackers, they may want to keep an eye on Ellis, who had the deciding goal in the 89th minute for a 1-0 victory over the Montreal Impact on Wednesday.

Ellis also scored in a 2-1 loss to Atlanta United in the previous match and now has seven goals in 76 MLS games.

“I’m enjoying it. It doesn’t happen that often for anybody, so when you can score in multiple games, it’s exciting,” he said.

Each team will be playing for the third time in eight days, so recovery and utilizing the roster have been important during the stretch.

For example, Crew 33-year-old midfielder Federico Higuain was on the bench at the beginning of Wednesday’s match after starting the first 10. He did enter in the 59th minute and will return to the starting lineup vs. the Fire. So too will midfielder Pedro Santos, who served a red-card suspension against Philadelphia.

Chicago, like Columbus, is investing in young players, and Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said the victory over Montreal was significant in that regard.

“It was very important that we could win the three points because the progression we had in the last month was huge,” he said. “There was progression in the youngsters, but it’s also important for the veterans to see we are working towards getting better. Putting all that together, with having a game (on Saturday), is also important.”

Columbus will try to maintain its momentum at home knowing it has two road matches to complete the remainder of the May schedule. The Crew are fourth in the Eastern Conference with 18 points, trailing Orlando City SC by a point.

Crew coach Gregg Berhalter likes how his team responded to a 0-3-0 stretch before the current unbeaten run.

“I know it’s difficult sometimes when losses pile on each other, but you have to be able to separate those and look at what’s in front of you,” he said.