After two straight defeats, including the first home loss of the year, Columbus Crew SC rebounded brilliantly against an out-of-form New England Revolution on Saturday. On the strength of two goals from Ola Kamara and Federico Higuain, Columbus reached their fifth victory of the season. By comparison, it took them until August 27th to achieve that mark last season.
The Black & Gold don’t have much time to celebrate this victory as the side welcomes rivals Toronto FC to MAPFRE Stadium.
Toronto faced the Seattle Sounders in a MLS Cup Final rematch last Saturday. TFC edged out the Sounders by the score of 1-0 on the road. Jozy Altidore exacted revenge against Stefan Frei by hammering a penalty kick home in the 23rd minute of the match.
Altidore now has a goal is six of his nine games this season for Toronto. It isn’t just the “Jozy Altidore Show” north of the border either, as he is getting support from fellow Designated Players Sebastian Giovinco and Michael Bradley as they start to hit their stride.
Let’s take a look at what you can expect to see in the second leg of the Trillium Cup:
Toronto at a Glance:
Record: 5-1-4, 1st Eastern Conference, 1.9 points-per-game
Leading Goal Scorer: Jozy Altidore (6)
Assists Leader: Jozy Altidore (3) & Victor Vaszquez (3)
What to watch for:
Since the last meeting with Columbus, Altidore has been on the score sheet in three of his last four contests.
Sebastian Giovinco has also enjoyed a run of good form. Prior to his previous visit to Columbus, Giovinco had only one finish in 2017. Since then, he has enjoyed multiple goal games and generated some great assisted as Toronto is starting to find its form.
Giovinco sat on Saturday and TFC still managed a road win, not even traveling, so expect to see him fresh on Wednesday.
In the midfield, Armando Cooper and Victor Vasquez were both rested as well, so they’ll likely be on the field this time around. It will be interesting to see if Altidore is rotated due to potential fatigue.
Toronto doesn’t have much depth defensively, so that will be an area to keep an eye on. We might see Tsubasa Endoh play some wingback, which he has done in USL this season.
Vasquez will almost certainly start and be the creative pivot in the attacking half for TFC. He leads the team in key passes with 23.
Toronto does not need possession to be successful. The Reds are middle of the pack this season, but have shown this past week that it can and will win when playing behind the ball.
On Saturday on the road in Seattle, TFC saw just 36.5 percent possession. But the Reds like to get the ball in the attacking third quickly and have the talent to finish. Despite that possession discrepancy against the Sounders, Toronto had just one less shot than Seattle and put more than twice as many on goal. It was similar in the previous game against Orlando City.
TFC have enjoyed solid play from both of their goalkeepers. Toronto fans held their breath when Clint Irwin went down in early April, but Alex Bono stepped in and filled the void admirably.
As a starter, Bono had 15 saves and two clean sheets. Toronto are second in the league in shutouts with five, trailing Sporting Kansas City with six.
Much like Crew SC, Toronto has a ton of depth that can be called upon. Head coach Greg Vanney is keen on looking to players like Tosaint Ricketts and Cooper. Both players provide a great lift for Toronto FC off the bench.
Cooper, specifically, is a menace on the pitch. He generates offense and peppers opposing goalkeeper with shots. This benefits players like Altidore and Giovinco who may look to poach a rebound that an opposing goalkeeper may cough up.
Things to Consider
It will be interesting to see how schedule congestion and player rotation affects both of these teams. For Toronto, this is a third game in eight days while for Crew SC, this is game two of three games over a similar stretch.
For Columbus, is it wise to play Federico Higuain that many compact minutes with so much of the season still ahead?
Is this an opportunity for Kekuta Manneh to make an impact?
How does the attack function if Pipa and/or Justin Meram get a little rest?
And the same goes for Kamara, because does anyone besides Adam Jahn get excited about Adam Jahn seeing 90 minutes?
How Crew SC Win
The attacking players need to make defensive contributions. Expecting that Columbus will likely have more of the ball, it will be important to slow Toronto’s counter before it gets going. Some of the keys to that will be putting pressure on Bradley and not letting him get his head up and eyes down field (everything runs through him; no other starter in the league takes a greater percentage of his team’s touches). Mainly, take care of things before Giovinco is running at the back line with the ball at his feet.
Columbus might need to concede a little possession. That sounds strange, but with Toronto playing on the road and potentially having five in back, it may be hard for the Black & Gold to break things down. By giving up some of the ball, it draws TFC out a bit and may help create some space behind.
Related to that concept, Crew SC has to keep its cool and not overplay things if chances aren’t coming easily. Toronto has the ability to punish one mistake, and will be happy to take that on the road, so Columbus has to make sure it doesn’t have mental lapses or cough the ball up in bad places.
Crew SC’s goals against the New England Revolution came as a result of quick, vertical attack. Even if the Black & Gold weren’t creating chance after chance, it attacked quickly when it did. That should be a sticking point yet again.