Since Toronto FC came to Columbus Crew Stadium and handed the Crew their first loss, both teams have struggled to get results. The teams sit just three points apart so this game becomes even bigger as both clubs look to move up the Eastern Conference and move closer to the Trillium Cup.
The Crew come in on the back of their first win since Toronto defeated them at the beginning of April. The 2-0 win over the Chicago Fire was much needed, as Ethan Finlay and Jairo Arrieta got things going in the first half and the Black and Gold held on to their first shutout since opening day.
The Reds only have one win since beating Columbus. They tied Sporting Kansas City 2-2 last week, scoring two goals after going a man down. They also drew 1-1 with the Montreal Impact on Wednesday in the first leg of the Canadian Championship Final, but they used a much different lineup than expected against the Crew.
Here are our questions and answers to give some insight before the second meeting between these two rivals.
Questions for Walking The Red
Massive Report: Since Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew last played, these teams have compiled one MLS win a piece. Crew fans have seen what has occurred with their club, but take us through what has haunted the Reds.
Waking The Red: There are a couple of valid mitigating factors. Firstly injuries, a lot of players have been in and out of the lineup, I'd say (and Ryan Nelsen has offered it as an excuse) there's been one game that we've played what would be considered the first choice lineup, that was the game before Columbus, and there's been very little stability to enable a fairly large amount of new players to gel and figure out their games.
Secondly, the schedule, it's been weird. TFC have still only played 9 games, only 5 since we played Columbus, and they've almost all been tough, good teams or mediocre teams on a hot streak (i.e. Columbus from the start of April). Last week we got a very weakened SKC team so maybe that's starting to balance out now.
The main reason though is tactical, the style of play that's been used, and the almost pathological lack of ambition or vision from Ryan Nelsen, but that can be for the next question. Other issues since last we played, Gilberto (or Ol' Gil as we like to refer to him at WTR) still hasn't scored and though he does plenty of good things, his confidence looks shot which is less than ideal from a DP centre forward. Luke Moore's scored twice since coming over from [Chivas USA] so Saturday may see Gilberto start on the bench for the first time. Also centre back Doneil Henry is a very good player, but still learning the game and has recently erred on the wrong side of the line between smartly and dumbly aggressive, and conceded a few penalties, that's meant a few late result changing goals.
MR: In the previous outing at Columbus Crew Stadium, Toronto played a counter-attacking style, scoring an early goal and sitting back and allowing Columbus to play in front of them. On Saturday at BMO Field, do you expect the Reds to play differently? If so, how do you expect them to play?
WTR: Nope, they'll hope to play exactly the same. Ryan Nelsen would be giddy if Columbus comes at us, full backs flying down the wing and all that again. The counter attack is pretty pretty good to be fair, though a bit less so without Michael Bradley so it's not a bad tactic, and defensively we've generally been fairly solid, but when TFC have the ball and the opposition is set and sitting back waiting, they're hopeless. Predictable (long ball from goalie and hope to win the secondary challenge, or play it to the DM's, either way, it's then going to go out to the wings to try and get a cross in) unimaginative and too slow to cause an organised defence problems. It's been pretty dire stuff to watch so far, made worse by expectation, last year we all knew we were crap and so could enjoy the small triumphs when they happened. This year, we really should be doing better (at least in spirit if not results) so there's frustration creeping in, I'd be surprised if Saturday is any different.
MR: There will be several big name players missing out on this match - Michael Bradley and Julio Cesar due to international duty and Steven Caldwell and Federico Higuain through suspension. From a Toronto perspective, how do you expect that to impact this game?
WTR: Supporters are all very happy about Higuain's absence as he's killed us plenty of times in the past, right now our midfield isn't all that healthy or at its best so not having to deal with him will, theoretically, make the defensive side of their job much easier. As for TFC's absences, the switch from Cesar to Joe Bendik hasn't really affected things and really, Cesar's now off doing what he was really brought here for, marketing and worldwide brand awareness. As for Caldwell, the last time he was suspended was against the Crew and Bradley Orr replaced him quite handily, so again theoretically, that shouldn't be too much of a loss. Michael Bradley's absence really hurts though as his ability to read the game and make tackles and interceptions then quickly release the ball smartly and accurately was a huge part of the counter attack success. He's the engine that most of the early season success ran through and whoever ends up being healthy enough to play in midfield is going to be a step down for sure.
Questions for Massive Report
Waking The Red: Columbus was 3-0-0 when last we did this. What the hell changed since then? Was last week's win a sign of getting back on track?
Massive Report: To be honest, Toronto changed quite a bit. They were the first team the Crew played who sat back and absorbed the pressure. They allowed Columbus to possess the ball in front of them, forced them wide, and denied them anything from crosses.
It also helped that the Black and Gold couldn't score. The game becomes a lot more difficult for the Crew when they don't get the first goal, or at least don't come out hot. If they can get something early, it makes it awful difficult on opponents to get back in the game.
Last week's 2-0 win was a good start, but the Chicago Fire were without five starters. Columbus did look more like the team from the beginning of the season, but it's hard to tell if that was due to the absences or if they've really got things figured out. Of course, the week before, they scored three goals against the Portland Timbers and should have walked out of Portland with a full three points, so we'll see.
WTR: No Higuain. Obviously a big blow, is there a direct replacement for him or will it need a tactical rethink?
MR: No. As both Gregg Berhalter and all the players I've talked to this week have said, no one can replaced what Higuain gives this team. He is certainly the MVP of the team at this point and in the running for the league's award.
Berhalter has stated this week that there are a lot of options to substitute for Higuain. If they want to go as close to like-for-like as possible, Ben Speas would be the option. He has not seen any time this year, but has played the role in the reserve games. Bernardo Anor and Justin Meram could both play there as well. If they want to go with a true 4-4-2, Dominic Oduro would be the obvious option to play with Jairo Arrieta up top. There's also a possibility they go with five in the midfield and Daniel Paladini would be the more attacking option there.
WTR: Dominic Oduro still hasn't scored this season, while Ethan Finlay has now started scoring. Is there any specific reason for that, is Finlay now ahead of Oduro in the depth chart?
MR: For Berhalter, ideally Oduro is a forward. He has mostly been used out wide in a substitute role this season when the Crew need another attacking option. The issue is, with the way this team plays, Oduro isn't the best fit. With essentially one forward, they need a player who can hold up the ball and make smart runs and do a lot on their own. Oduro needs to get balls played in behind and run at defenses and I'm not sure it works well. Now with two forwards, when Higuain is not an option, could be interesting.
Finlay has been a revelation this year. I just wrote a piece about how he's gone from outside the 18 to a starter who is scoring goals. He adds something a little different to Columbus' flanks. Unfortunately for Crew fans, Higuain has provided the helpers on both of his goals in the last two games, so it will be interesting to see how he does without Pipa on the field.