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Massive Scouting Report: Trillium Cup on the line in Crew SC’s final matchup with Toronto

A look at how Columbus matches up with TFC ... again

MLS: Toronto FC at Columbus Crew SC
Tosaint Ricketts killed Columbus in the last meeting, and nearly sank New York Red Bulls last week. Who’s that Giovinco guy?
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

“It's the same thing every day, Clean up your room, stand up straight, pick up your feet, take it like a man, be nice to your sister, don't mix beer and wine ever, Oh yeah, don't drive on the railroad tracks.”

Thanks, Phil Connors.

And welcome to Groundhog Day.

For the third time in six weeks and second time in the last two, Columbus Crew SC will take on Toronto FC for the last time in 2017, with the glimmering Trillium Cup on the line. (You care about that, right?)

If you don’t care about metal chalices, keep in mind the result could create a six-point swing for two teams in the top half of the Eastern Conference.

Things will kick off at 7 p.m. EST on Friday at BMO Field.

Both previous meetings this season were at MAPFRE Stadium, with the first seeing the Black & Gold hand the Reds their only loss of the season and the second featuring a late-game pipping by Toronto.

TFC has a 2-1-2 edge in the last five meetings between the two clubs.

You should already have some idea of what to expect when Columbus gets together with one of the best teams in MLS this season, but we’ll give you a little bit to chew on in preparation for the game.

At a Glance

Record: 7-1-5

Form: DWWWW

After winning six in a row, TFC is unbeaten in its last seven, dating back to the loss to Columbus.

Toronto did lose to USL side Ottawa Fury earlier this week in the Canadian Championship, 2-1, but that was with a shell of its first team on the field.

Formation: 3-5-2

Goal leader: Jozy Altidore (6), Sebastian Giovinco (6)

Assist leader: Victor Vasquez (4), Altidore (4)

Toronto personnel

If you’ve been paying attention, you should know what Toronto looks like.

If not, check out our previews from the first meeting and the second matchup.

Not a ton has changed since then. One thing we do know is that Giovinco (injury) and Altidore (yellow card suspension) will not be available. Giovinco did not play in the most recent game between the two sides either.

Toisant Ricketts has been the primary fill-in for the pint-sized Italian, and while he lacks the skill of Giovinco, he does offer pace and the ability to really stretch things.

MLS: Toronto FC at New York Red Bulls
Raheem Edwards is a difference maker for TFC.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Drew Moor made his return to the back line for TFC against New York Red Bulls after being sidelined for a while after a heart condition scare. The veteran definitely makes Toronto better defensively. He played 45 minutes in Tuesday’s Canadian Championship game, as did Justin Morrow.

Raheem Edwards played 89 minutes in Tuesday’s game, so it will be interesting to see if he gets the start in this one. He’s been a revelation this season running the left flank.

Expect to see Michael Bradley, the team’s metronome (he continues to lead all MLS starters with 13.4 touch percentage), in the midfield, along with Victor Vasquez and, likely, Armando Cooper, a box-to-box presence.

Vasquez has also been a major addition for Toronto this season. He loves putting his teammates in dangerous areas and linking up in the attacking third. The final ball is his strength — his 3.55 key passes per 96 minutes leads all MLS starters.

That play, against NYRB last week, didn’t come off for Toronto, but gives an idea of how Vasquez fits in.

So, to recap, you’ve got a three-man back line, one of the best pivots in the league, a dangerous young wingback, a playmaking attacking midfielder and potent forwards up top, either putting balls away or creating space (and assists) for teammates.

SPOILER ALERT: That makes for a pretty good side right now. (Oh yeah, they also have the best player in the league sidelined due to injury and one of the best finishers sitting out)

The previous meetings

Columbus took the first matchup, back on April 16, 2-1 at home. That game saw TFC with a full lineup, minus Drew Moor (and Clint Irwin, who played in the Canadian Championship this week).

Altidore scored a first-half goal to give Toronto a 1-0 lead before Ola Kamara and Justin Meram scored in quick succession and the Black & Gold held on the rest of the way, despite being out-shot.

Artur was on the field for that one, and Meram and Alex Crognale both played very well out a the team’s standard 4-2-3-1 setup.

MLS: Toronto FC at Columbus Crew SC
Will he or won’t he?
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

In meeting No. 2, Kamara drew an early penalty that Federico Higuain finished, but Gregg Vanney brought Ricketts on late in the first half, and the sub ended up scoring goals in the 81st and 90th minutes for a 2-1 TFC win at MAPFRE Stadium.

Although Columbus out-shot Toronto 17-9, 10 of those CCSC shots came from outside the box, as the Black & Gold were unable to penetrate the TFC defense.

Crew SC played that one in a 3-4-2-1, with Mohammed Abu in the midfield en lieu of Artur, and Ethan Finlay and Waylon Francis on the wings. Crognale struggled this time around, Nicolai Naess didn’t play and Meram couldn’t find ways to break down the back line.

Notes from last week

Toronto went on the road to New York Red Bulls and settled for a 1-1 draw. (This was a very entertaining game worth watching, by the way.)

This is notable because it snapped a six-game winning streak for TFC, but that should not detract from the team’s performance. Red Bull Arena is a very difficult place for visitors to take points, and Toronto had the better of the play.

TFC actually had great opportunities in the final 10 minutes to take a full three points — an Altidore penalty that was saved by Luis Robles, a shot from Ricketts that hit the crossbar and a goal from Ricketts in the 89th minute that was ruled offside.

In other words, while it was a break in the trend of results for Toronto, it was not a break in form.

Toronto had 56 percent of the possession on the road, and out-shot NYRB 15-11.

Here’s TFC’s dashboard against New York:

TFC vs. NYRB

As you can see, Toronto maintained a presence relatively high up the field for playing in a tough road environment. You can also see where the team’s key passes come from — the wingbacks and Vasquez.

Crew keys

  • Attack the space behind the TFC wingbacks.

Last time out, when the game was in Columbus, Toronto took a conservative approach at the start, defending with five. At home at BMO Field, I would not expect that to be the case. I think Toronto will be more proactive and grab more possession. When TFC is in possession, the wingbacks often pull in and help keep a compact shape. If Columbus can break up that possession and counter quickly, there should be spaces on the wing to stretch the back three.

This might be a reason to consider Naess at defensive midfield again, where he can break up plays and send direct balls to the wings.

  • Limit Raheem Edwards.

The young wingback has been a difference maker for TFC; if you remember, his balls in created both of the Reds’ goals in Columbus. He’s proven to be a much better deliverer of the ball than veteran left back Justin Morrow.

The challenge will be figuring out how to keep Edwards from using his pace and crossing ability to impact things. That may mean cutting off the passing lanes and creating a mess in the midfield before the ball ever gets to him.

That’s an area where Artur’s return could be valuable. It also means that the player selection at right back will be critical. Will Harrison Afful return? And if he does, will he be sharp after some time off the field (and some sleepless nights)?

  • No mistakes in your own half.

This goes without saying, but it’s always a key. Last week, Wil Trapp coughed up the ball in a bad area, resulting in a goal. The last time these two teams met, a pair of mistakes late cost the team three points.

Flawless soccer is hard to play. But getting as close as possible is important on the road, where the margin for error is even smaller.

Food for thought

Will Gregg Berhalter go with the three-man back line again? Where will Naess play? Is it time for Afful’s return to the field? Will TFC make any personnel adjustments after playing a Canadian Championship game earlier this week?

Here’s one look at how things might potentially shake out:

Columbus Crew SC vs Toronto FC - Football tactics and formations