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Massive Predictions: Eastern Conference Final - Columbus Crew SC at Toronto FC

Can the Black & Gold win the East over the Reds?

MLS: Eastern Conference Championship-Toronto FC at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

For either Columbus Crew SC or Toronto FC, Wednesday night will be the last game of 2017. For the other, it will mark the beginning of a 10-day stretch that builds to hosting the MLS Cup Final on Dec. 9.

The Black & Gold and TFC head into the second leg of the Eastern Conference Final at BMO Field level on aggregate at zeroes.

Crew SC knows that going into Toronto won’t be easy, but also that one away goal could change the complexion of the tied. TFC understands it was the best team in Major League Soccer this year and all it has to do is win at home — something the side did 13 times during the regular season — to advance to the Final.

The Reds also get a boost with the return of the team’s top two scorers, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, who were both suspended for the 0-0 first leg draw in Columbus.

Crew SC, meanwhile, go into this contest without one of the team’s key pieces in the middle of the field as Brazilian midfielder Artur will sit this one out due to yellow card accumulation.

It’s a winner-take-all battle for MLS’s Eastern Conference crown. Who will bring home the trophy?

Ralph Schudel

A long 2017 season has brought us to leg two of the 2017 Eastern Conference Final. Take a minute to realize what a tremendous accomplishment this is for the team and for the fanbase.

Wednesday night will be a momentous occasion at BMO Field and Crew SC will have an uphill battle with the return of Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco. I expect this game to an all out street fight. If Crew SC can keep Toronto off the board and not allow them to register a shot on target, I think they will be okay. If the game happens to go into penalty kicks, I trust goalkeeper Zack Steffen's ability between the pipes.

Sit back and enjoy the ride because it's going to be an interesting 90 minutes.
Columbus Crew SC 1 Toronto FC 1 (Crew SC advance on away goals)

Patrick Murphy

What a roller coaster of emotions the 2017 Crew SC team has brought to its fans. From early success to a mediocre summer to 12 games unbeaten, we now sit with it all to play for in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Final.

I’ve been up and down on this team throughout the year and can safely say I’ve doubted the Black & Gold plenty, including in the knockout round of these playoffs. I thought the team had a chance to set themselves up for success in this game against Toronto in the first leg, but take advantage of TFC missing two players they did not.

The team is confidence heading across the border; I am not. I think the Reds have too much firepower for Columbus to handle getting back Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco. Add in an emotional and rowdy crowd at BMO Field, looking to cheer their team back to the MLS Cup Final and I think it’s too much for the magic of this run to overcome.

I do think Crew SC puts up a fight, but I think not getting a goal in the first leg, when the opportunities were there, ultimately haunts the Black & Gold.
Toronto FC 2 Columbus Crew SC 1

Collin Johnson

After a frustrating performance in Columbus, Crew SC travel to Toronto to face a full strength TFC. With Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore back in the lineup, the Black & Gold will have their hands full with the potentially potent Toronto attack.

TFC will likely return to their trusted 3-5-2 formation after a one-match switch to the defensive heavy 4-1-4-1, which often saw 10 Toronto players defending the Crew attack. In the first leg, the Black and Gold took nearly 70 minutes to adapt to Toronto's heavily defensive style, seemingly playing for the counter attack against a team that did not have much interest in taking the ball across its own midfield.

Though their backs are against the wall, there are more game outcomes that benefit Columbus. A goal-scoring tie or a win will see MLS Cup return to MAPFRE Stadium. The question I have is whether Crew SC go back to that counter-attacking strategy that was employed in the first leg or go with an all-out attack to grab a first goal. I am an eternal optimist, so I can see the Crew scoring early, giving up a goal relatively early, and defending for their lives for the rest of the match.
Columbus Crew SC 1 Toronto FC 1 (Crew SC advance on away goals)

Guilherme Torres

Leaving MAPFRE Stadium with a scoreless draw last week was not what Crew SC expected, but the result kept the team very much alive in the Eastern Conference Final. The Black & Gold performed well when they needed to get a result on the road in the last weeks of the regular season and in the first round of the playoffs and, on the other hand, played one of their worst matches when they tried to sit and wait to protect a huge lead in the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals. With the series open in Toronto, Crew SC could be poised for another good performance in Canada.

Toronto FC is a very good team and will be even stronger with Sebastian Giovinvo and Jozy Altidore back. I expect an open match, that could be what Crew SC's offense needs to find the back of the net again after a disappointing production in the playoffs — scoring in only one of the team's four games.

Mohammed Abu, who is expected to replaced the suspended Artur, will have to play very efficient soccer to stop Toronto's attacking power. If the Ghanaian can help the team's defensive system to hold the Canadians, I could totally see a tie that gets Crew SC through the MLS Cup Final. And I'll take the risk: it's going to be Pedro Santos scoring the deciding goal.
Columbus Crew SC 1 Toronto FC 1 (Crew SC advance on away goals)

Josh Mlot

In trying to be a realist, it’s hard to feel great about this second leg for Crew SC. The first leg feels like a missed opportunity. Now Toronto FC gets Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco back and get the home crowd behind them. On top of that, Artur will miss the match for Columbus. Mohammed Abu has settled in a bit as the season went on, but I don’t love the idea of counting on him in a big moment in a tough environment, and I worry about missing Arthur’s dynamism in a game in which CCCS has to score.

I fear this will be the end of the road for the Black & Gold this season. Though not an impossible task, all signs point to a great TFC having a chance to fulfill their destiny as the best team in MLS this season and one of the best in league history.
Toronto FC 2 Columbus Crew SC 1

Patrick Guldan

Toronto is the better team. This isn’t news. They tallied an incredible 69 points in the league this year and were an incredible 12 points better than the next best team in MLS. They were competent in the first leg at MAPFRE holding the game to a cagey 0-0 draw. In the second leg, they get Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco back while Crew SC will be missing Artur.

So goes Federico Higuain, so goes Crew SC. Toronto hamstrung the Argentine playmaker for large stretches of the game and Michael Bradley is more than capable of doing it again. Without Pipa pulling the strings, the Columbus offense struggles. Additionally, Jonathan Mensah has chosen the playoffs to revert to his early season poor form.

The silver linings? Few coaches can manage a series as well as Gregg Berhalter has shown he’s been able to do. For his perceived lack of flexibility, especially early in his tenure in Black & Gold, he’s done well to manage a game situation to do enough to move on.

Additionally, Toronto hasn’t been world beaters over the last couple months as they coasted to the best record. They finished out the regular season 2-2-1 with a 0 goal differential. They are 1-1-1 with a 0 goal differential in the playoffs.

It won’t be enough as a magical run stops just short of a truly meaningful ending.

Toronto FC 3 Columbus Crew SC 1

Do you have faith Crew SC can make the trip to Toronto and come back Eastern Conference champions? Let us know your score prediction in the comment section below.