The fairy tale 2017 playoff run is over after Columbus Crew SC couldn’t break through the Toronto FC defense, falling 1-0 behind a second half Jozy Altidore goal. The Black & Gold fell on aggregate over the two leg series by the same score.
Columbus came out in a surprising 3-4-2-1 with Pedro Santos as the left wingback. Justin Meram and Federico Higuain played as two central playmakers. The switch caused Toronto a little confusion early before the home side settled in with some possession.
The Crew got the first good chance of the game in the 21st minute on the counter attack. Higuain played a ball from the right touchline to a rushing Ola Kamara into the Toronto end. Kamara took a touch and centered the ball across to Meram. The winger’s touch was too strong and Michael Bradley was able to recover and clear the danger before the Crew even got a shot off.
Toronto quickly get their first good chance in the 25th minute off a corner kick. Josh Williams pushed down Drew Moor on the play and the referee awarded a penalty kick. Victor Vazquez stepped with a quick shot, but Columbus goalkeeper Zack Steffen dove to his right, parrying the shot wide. The Black & Gold defense collapsed on the rebound and cleared the danger.
Crew SC controlled the game without the ball over the next 15 minutes as their defensive setup stymied Toronto's attack. The home side probed, but failed to challenge the Crew goal.
Toronto created a couple scrambles right before the half, but only Jonathan Osorio managed a shot on target. Despite the bouncing loose ball, the home side couldn't break through before the halftime whistle sounded.
The second half saw a Toronto tactical tweak that put the Crew on the back foot as Marky Delgado replaced defender Eriq Zavaleta. The shift pushed the Black & Gold out of their rhythm. A lengthy injury delay for an ankle injury to Altidore further disrupted the flow the Crew had gotten into.
The result would be the death knell for the 2017 season.
With the Crew suddenly short of ideas, Toronto grabbed the lead and the game, and, of course, it was Altidore. The defense failed to manage a long goal kick allowing playmaker Sebastian Giovinco time on the ball in the offensive half. He found Altidore near the box who quickly redirected to Vasquez. The Spaniard took a pause then fed Altidore with a piercing ball into the penalty box. The forward buried a far post shot to give the home side the lead in the 60th minute.
Columbus struggled to answer. Gregg Berhalter first brought on speedy winger Kekuta Manneh in the 73rd minute, then forward Adam Jahn in the 80th, before finally subbing in Hector Jimenez for Santos in the 85th as Columbus settled into a 4-2-4 to close out the game. The only real danger was an off balance Meram shot in the 79th and a tantalizing ball sent across the box by Meram missed Jahn's head and flashed through Kamara's legs.
Toronto closed out the game as the Crew resorted to desperation tactics and lumped the ball forward. The only shot Columbus managed in stoppage time was a long distance effort from over 30 yards by Harrison Afful.
Zero - To win, you need to score. The Crew defense stymied Toronto over the 180 minutes, but the Toronto defense was just that much better. Columbus failed to really test the TFC goal, even while they played a very strong defensive game.
When it was over
The series was probably over when Altidore scored, but it was truly over when neither Jahn nor Kamara could get a touch to redirect. So close to a MAPFRE Stadium final.
The long wait until March 2018 when the next Major League Soccer season will begin and news of a possible team move for 2019. Welcome to the worst offseason.