Columbus Crew SC has reached the Eastern Conference Final.
It has not been an easy route through the MLS Cup playoffs thus far. The Black & Gold had to go to Atlanta United and fight in front of 70,000 fans. A penalty kick shootout win was the result in that knockout round.
Then it was an Eastern Conference semifinal series with the two-seed New York City FC. A 4-1 advantage from the first leg was barley enough to overcome David Villa and company at Yankee Stadium, but Columbus prevailed 4-3 on aggregate.
Now Toronto FC, the league’s best team in 2017, stands in the Black & Gold’s way of hosting a second MLS Cup Final in three seasons with the first leg on Tuesday at MAPFRE Stadium.
The Reds will be without Designated Players Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, both will serve one-game suspensions, in the opening leg. This would be good news for Crew SC if TFC hadn’t won a game between these two sides 5-0 without their two stars earlier this year.
It’s been a long layoff for either side and any momentum these teams had is now gone. It’s a battle between the Trillium Cup rivals. Who takes leg one?
Let’s see what our Massive Report staff thinks.
On paper, they goals are simple:
1. Strike TFC while they are down, in this case they are down Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco.
2. Do not let Toronto score an away goal.
3. Score Early... then score often.
We have seem what happens when the away team scores, and theCrew do not want to put themselves in that situation again if the team has any hopes of continuing to stick it to MLS and host the Cup final.
Results we don’t want? A tie, a loss (obviously), or any results where TFC has one or more away goals.
Results we do want? A win. Actually, a multi-goal win and preferably by more than two goals.
While the Crew has beaten TFC once this season, they have also had two losses, including a serious drubbing at BMO field. Toronto at full strength worries me quite a bit, but I’m hopeful in this one.
Columbus Crew SC 2 Toronto FC 0
After an international break that seemed to last forever, the Crew are finally back in Columbus to kick off the MLS Eastern Conference Finals. Crew SC haven't lost at home since July and have only draw during that period, but Toronto have one of the best away records in MLS.
Both teams should be healthy but TFC, without both Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco, will obviously be missing some key pieces. Even though Toronto was able to beat the Crew without their attacking pair, it would be tough to predict another five-goal match without Altidore or Giovinco.
Berhalter has had plenty of time to review film and prepare a game plan for the Reds, so hopefully Columbus is able to bring an effort equal to their first two playoff games.
Columbus Crew SC 2 Toronto FC 1
I doubted Crew SC in the opening round against Atlanta and the team proved me wrong. I thought the New York City series would be tricky, but Columbus had a chance. The team showed me they had more than a chance.
The matchup with Toronto isn’t great for the Black & Gold. I do believe this is the best team in the league this year, and possibly ever, but we’ve seen how often the best team wins in playoff formats, and it’s not all the time. I’m beginning to get the sense that there is something special with this group, be it because of the Save the Crew movement or just that this team started clicking at the right time.
I believe this game will tell us a lot about what we can expect from the series and I’d like to see Gregg Berhalter’s men take control like they did — at least with the scoreline — in the home game against NYCFC.
It might not be as much, but I think Columbus can get a good result against Toronto heading to BMO Field in eight days.
Columbus Crew SC 3 Toronto FC 1
Despite its noticeable absences, Toronto FC is still a very dangerous team and it seems to have just the right pieces to play a wait-and-see game in the first leg. They can be dangerous on the break and will likely punish Columbus if the Black & Gold make mistakes at the back. With that said, I think that the most important thing for Crew SC is doing a good job defensively because it's offense will probably be fine.
Columbus is on a good run and has been pretty efficient at home lately and I don't expect that to change. The team knows how important this first leg is for the series and that they need to take advantage of a Toronto team that won't be at full power. I see the Black & Gold traveling up north in a few days with an advantage, but not a big one.
Columbus Crew SC 2 Toronto FC 1
The Crew is hot and are playing before a passionate sold out crowd. It’s going to be emotional and Columbus will be able to ride that emotion, and an offense firing on all cylinders, to a couple goals.
While Toronto’s defense is very solid, Federico Higuain has found the seams in the best defenses over the last three months. A fully rested Justin Meram with an in form Pedro Santos means that Ola Kamara won’t have to shoulder the offense alone.
Toronto is too dangerous to get shutout though, even without Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco. Victor Vazquez is exceptionally savvy and was ruthless in the 5-0 drubbing in May, while Michael Bradley is talented enough to find and change games. Columbus may win, but they probably won’t be happy with the scoreline.
Columbus Crew 2 Toronto FC 1
Let's get one thing straight - no matter what happens from here on out, this has been a very good season for Crew SC.
With that said ... I think this is a tough, though not insurmountable, task ahead against Toronto FC. My big question is how the two weeks off affects Columbus. Is the momentum of the last couple of months lost? Or does it help leave the loss to NYCFC behind? Both? Neither?
Obviously the absence of Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco are major for TFC, but it has proven (against CCSC) to be able to overcome those losses. I think Columbus can take a win off Toronto in the first leg at home, but I question whether anything less than an NYCFC-style first leg drubbing will hold up.
I'm going to remain positive, say the time off is good for Justin Meram and the Black & Gold — a different team than the one that lost to TFC 5-0 in the last meeting — head into the second leg on top.
Columbus Crew SC 2 Toronto FC 1
Do you agree with our predictions? Do you have any of your own? Let us know in the comment section below.