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The Trillium Cup has turned into an ‘ironic’ rivalry between Toronto FC and Columbus Crew SC

A series that once had a silly trophy attached to it now matters on the field in MLS.

MLS: Toronto FC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Say what you want about the Trillium Cup, but the rivalry between Columbus Crew SC and Toronto FC has become a thing.

It has nothing to do with Major League Soccer deciding there should be trophy given out between the winner of the series between these teams due to the state/province’s flower, but rather the results on the field.

Led by their respective Greg(g)s, each team has turned around their fortunes in recent years, which has altered the once forced “rivalry” into something competitive.

“I think you look at the success of both teams over the past four years,” Crew SC captain Wil Trapp told reporters on the building an actual rivalry. “Obviously we were in the MLS Cup Final in ‘15; they hosted MLS Cup last year. They brought in a lot of quality players and it always seems to be a good soccer game between the two off us.”

The addition of players like United States national team captain Michael Bradley, U.S. forward Jozy Altidore and Italian international Sebastian Giovinco have sparked a renaissance for TFC, but Columbus has found its own — albeit cheaper — stars.

The Black & Gold’s Justin Meram has developed into one of MLS’s top wingers over the last few years. Ola Kamara, who Gregg Berhalter brought in before last season, shows each week that he’s one of the league’s best strikers. Federico Higuain continues to prove doubters wrong with fantastic performance.

In 2017, led by their group of stars, both teams are contending for the Eastern Conference yet again. Toronto currently sits atop the East with 26 points and only one loss. That single defeat came to the Black & Gold, which likely stings for TFC and holds a bit of pride for Crew SC.

“I think it just stands out,” Berhalter said. “It’s not that we’re walking around there talking about it all the time, but they only have one loss and it happens to be to us. So it is something that stands out as one of their blemishes on their record so far.”

Columbus is seven points back of the Reds in the standings after the two teams split the first two meetings of the year.

“They were very different games,” Berhalter remembered. “The first game, we went down 1-0 and had to claw our way back into it, but then I think we controlled the game pretty well.

“The second game, I think was an excellent game overall. Watching the tape back again, it’s hard to believe the outcome was a 2-1 loss, but that’s soccer. And give them full credit for not quitting. They put in a good substitute who made the difference, actually two substitutes that made the difference.”

As is true in all rivalries, these teams are beginning to not like each other as things become contentious.

After the first meeting of the season, Bradley stated that his side, which took the early lead, deserved to leave Columbus with three points instead of zero. Crew SC certainly felt similar in the second game after the Reds scored two goals in the final nine minutes to earn the victory.

For the first time in the history of the rivalry, which dates back to 2008, these games consistently feel like they matter in the grand scheme of MLS and both teams have something to lose by not winning on the day.

On Friday night, the sides meet for the final time in the 2017, save for a potential playoff matchup, in a match that will determine the season series.

The Black & Gold take what should be close to a first-choice team to Toronto in the hopes of giving the Reds their second loss of the year, while the same cannot be said for the home side. Giovinco is out with a quad strain, Altidore is suspended due to yellow card accumulation and defender Nick Hagglund will miss out with an MCL injury.

This should be good news for Crew SC, but you never know what to expect, or who could step up, in a rivalry game.

“The crazy thing is, we won with Giovinco and Altidore on the field and then we lose without Giovinco,” Berhalter said of the first two meetings. “This game’s crazy. You can’t predict what’s going to happen and they’re still a good team.”

Although pride and a potential six-point swing is the focus, the Trillium Cup is on the line in this one. If there’s a trophy up for grabs, Columbus would like to win it. But more importantly, Friday’s game is about getting one over on these actual rivals from the north.

“It is ironic that it’s kind of become a rivalry through the actual play on the field instead of just something that we’ve said, ‘Oh, we’ll be rivals,’” Trapp said.

Ironic indeed.