The Columbus Crew now head north with the season on the line again. Toronto and the Black & Gold were scoreless over the first game of the two game series. The difference between MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium on December 9th and a long offseason comes down to taking down the best team in the league on the road.
The Crew can advance with a win or a non-scoreless tie tonight. That means the offense will have to perform better than the zero goal, three shot on target effort that they recorded a week ago. Federico Higuain and Ola Kamara are fully healthy while Gregg Berhalter says that neither Justin Meram or Pedro Santos will be slowed by the minor injuries they have been carrying.
One key player that will be missing is the midfield force Artur. The Brazilian is suspended for the match after two yellow cards in the four games that Columbus has played. That means Mohammed Abu will have to step in against a fearsome offense.
Toronto will get two giant additions back into the lineup as Designated Players Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore return from suspension. The Reds struggled to line up without the two key pieces, now the team can return to their first choice style of play. They will be more comfortable playing in front of a packed house.
Keys to the match:
Manage the game states: The game will likely be cagey to open. Toronto will be looking to score at home with all their weapons, but the Crew will look to be opportunistic on the break. Columbus will have to choose when to chase the game if they fall behind. A lead would give the Crew a different challenge, how to protect a road lead in a hostile environment.
Which Jonathan will show: Toronto will get chances, but how good they are likely depends on which version of Jonathan Mensah shows up. Early season Jonathan struggled with the pace and physicality of MLS. He did grow into a leadership role along the back line as the season progressed and became a dependable cog. That fell apart in the playoffs against New York. The Crew can’t afford to give up good chances against a team that already does a great job of creating.
The rare chance: Even if Toronto dominates, Columbus will have a chance or two. They need to seize them. Those best chances may be on set pieces. Gregg Berhalter has shown he will be unconventional in corner and set piece routines. This is one area where the Crew have to execute.
How to Watch:
Date/Time: Wednesday November 29th, 7:30 p.m. ET
Venue: BMO Field
Listen: CD102.5 FM (English Broadcast) La Mega 103.1 FM (Spanish)