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Crossing the Touchline: Toronto FC at Columbus Crew SC

Rebounding from a Cup loss? We know that one.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

When you’ve lost in the championship game the season before and aren’t sure how to get out of the funk, who better to talk to than the most recent team to do the same thing?

Unfortunately for Toronto FC, Columbus Crew SC never really recovered from that MLS Cup hangover in 2015. TFC’s season may be different, but it hasn’t been the best of starts.

The Men in Red have played five games this season. After a championship match loss where they were responsible for every shot on goal yet somehow lost, Toronto has managed just one win in those 2017 contests.

Yet TFC comes into MAPFRE Stadium undefeated.

Good new for Crew SC fans, the Black & Gold have twice already vanquished unbeaten sides in this young season. Will it be a third on Saturday evening?

To get a sense, we spoke with Oliver Platt of SB Nation’s Waking the Red.

Question for Waking the Red

Massive Report: From the outside perspective, it looks like a little bit of good and bad to the start of TFC's season so far. On one hand, the team's undefeated, but on the other, only one win through five games. How are those in Toronto viewing this start?

Waking the Red: The players' glasses are certainly half full, and I would say the majority of the fans' are too. Simply put, Toronto have been in position to win all four of their draws; they missed a penalty at Real Salt Lake and several good chances against Sporting Kansas City, and had leads over the Philadelphia Union and Atlanta United.

A little bit of execution has been lacking, but the performances have generally been of a good standard and have improved week by week. The most encouraging sign is that the defence has continued to look strong, putting up three clean sheets in five games so far. If they keep that up, this team has too much talent up front not to be successful.

MR: Giovinco bagged his first goal a week ago. Is this a sign that he's rounding into form after a slow start or has he been playing well and just not getting on the stat sheet over the first four games?

WtR: A bit of both. He didn't look quite right in the opening game-and-a-half, got injured halfway through the second match and then returned after the international break and has been much better since. He was excellent against Kansas City, but as more of a playmaker - Jozy Altidore had played for the USA a few days earlier and couldn't start, so Giovinco was tasked with coming deeper and linking up the play more than he usually would. With Jozy back as the hold-up guy against Atlanta, Seba could stay up front and grabbed his first goal of the year.

The week before the Atlanta game was the first in which Giovinco, Altidore and Victor Vazquez had all been on the training ground together for a decent stretch, and it showed. Vazquez has looked a class act so far and should really help both of the strikers this season.

MR: Last years Toronto established itself as one of the best defensive teams in MLS, conceding only 39 goals. What made this group so good at keeping the ball out of the net and do you see the similar results for 2017?

WtR: The first big steps in the right direction happened last winter and were (a) the decision to use Michael Bradley as a defensive midfielder for good and (b) the additions of Drew Moor, Steven Beitashour and Clint Irwin.

That made for a much improved group, but things really clicked when Greg Vanney switched to a 3-5-2 formation on the eve of last season's playoffs. The problem towards the end of last season was that neither Nick Hagglund nor Eriq Zavaleta had quite made the centre-back spot next to Moor their own, and the solution was to play both of them with Moor as a sweeper.

It's worked really well; Hagglund and Zavaleta both look a lot more comfortable with the safety net behind them, and Justin Morrow now has the freedom to attack at will down the left. Chris Mavinga came in for Hagglund to make his debut against Atlanta but that did not go too well, so expect to see the tried and tested unit on Saturday.


To read Waking the Red’s questions for Massive Report, check out their Three Questions piece.