Reeling after two straight losses, Crew SC faced the daunting task of playing Toronto FC on the road with the playoffs on the line. A loss could have put immense pressure on them with Orlando just three points behind. A tie doesn't help them with positioning. A win would see the team shoot to second place and give them a chance at bye. Naturally, Crew SC cruised to a comfortable 2-0 win.
Toronto had just beaten the high flying Red Bulls at midweek and leapt past Columbus into second place. Sebastian Giovinco impressed for both club and country and Michael Bradley was returning to health, but the previously shaky Crew SC defense held up under the early pressure. Gaston Sauro and Michael Parkhurst combined to keep an isolated Giovinco out of dangerous positions.
With the Black and Gold defense proving up to the challenge, the offense probed for an opening throughout the first half. Ethan Finlay would drive into space and launch shot just wide in the 29th minute. Kei Kamara would force an outstanding save by Joe Bendik to keep the game scoreless in the 38th minute.
The first goal would come from an Higuain corner moments later. Tony Tchani met the bending delivery and nodded it back post. Finlay sidefooted the ball past Bendik and gave Crew SC the first half lead that they had worked to earn.
TFC regrouped at the half and started to exploit the space behind the Crew SC's agressive fullbacks and got the ball into dangerous positions. Toronto's best chance would come off a foul near the box in the 61st minute off of one of these forays toward. Giovinco rifled a shot that cruised past the wall and tested Steve Clark. It forced an excellent reaction save as Clark parried away the would be tying goal.
Federico Higuain would counter with a couple of shots that rang the post. The first coming off a shot at the top box that forced Bendik to tip the ball that then skimmed the crossbar. Moments later Higuain recovered a loose ball on the right side of the box. His shot rang the upright and out for a goal kick.
With Toronto increasingly unable to create chances against a suddenly stiff Columbus defense, the home side resorted to more direct passes while Crew SC were content to close out the game and pick their spots on the counter.
While Giovinco is rightly seen as the most electric player in the league, Higuain would get a final shot to show off in a moment of individual brilliance. After clearing late Toronto danger, Crew SC had a left sided throw in. The pass came to Aaron Schoenfeld, Gregg Berhalter's later defensive sub. He chose to flick on the ball for Higuain to run on to. Higuain picked up the ball, shouldered former Crew SC defender Josh Williams for a half step of space, and then clipped a chip over Bendik to seal the victory.
It was a comprehensive performance. Lead by Higauin, the offense was able to create enough chances and grabbed two goals. The defense stepped up with an outstanding performance to shut down the high flying offense. It's a real confidence booster with the playoffs looming.
Crew SC did pick up a couple losses during the game. Higuain and Kamara picked up yellow cards and are suspended for the D.C. United game due to accumulation. If there is a small silver lining, it's that the duo will be rested for the playoffs.
The win pushed Crew SC into second place in the Eastern Conference and confirmed a second straight trip to the playoffs. A win next Sunday against D.C. United would confirm a second seed and allow the team to avoid the play-in game. It's about the best possible outcome out of the Toronto trip Crew SC could have hoped for.