Would you look at that, it’s time to play soccer again.
Both squads played a defensively sound series in the 2017 Eastern Conference Final until Toronto finally broke through in the 61st minute of the second leg with Jozy Altidore’s go-ahead goal. This strike propelled the Reds to victory and allowed them to host the MLS Cup Final.
It is now a new year, and both squads are much improved as they added important pieces to their framework for another deep run into the MLS Cup playoffs.
The Black & Gold went through some renovations. With the exit of players like Ola Kamara and Justin Meram, Crew SC hope to replace 31 goals. While Gyasi Zardes won’t make up for all of the goals, it looks like he will ease the pressure on the Columbus offense due to the strong performances turned in during the preseason.
The offense isn’t the only thing getting an upgrade this season.
Young Designated Player Milton Valenzuela appears to be a star in the making as the 19-year-old outside back performed well in extensive preseason duty, holding his own against quality competition. Valenzuela looks to be the de facto starter heading into the opener as he replaces Jukka Raitala and Waylon Francis.
In addition to its star power, Toronto FC received an overhaul this offseason. the Reds signed longtime Ajax and PSG defender Gregory van der Wiel, who will add some quality to their backline and fill in for the departed Steven Beitashour.
Toronto also acquired Brazilian right back Auro, who makes his way to TFC on loan from São Paulo, and there is a lot of excitement from the Reds fans as they acquired midfielder Ager Aketxe from Athletic Bilbao.
Both clubs come into this season with high expectations. Crew SC look to get revenge against a hated rival and establish themselves as a top contender in the East. The Black & Gold also know that on-field performances matter to the fans, as results will provide brief happiness to a group that doesn’t know if they will be able to cheer for this team next season.
Toronto is known as the “gold standard” of Major League Soccer by many, as coaching staffs around the league look to follow the blueprint of what club general manager Tim Bezbatchenko utilized with the Reds.
How Crew SC win
The Black & Gold need to play a near perfect game against TFC. We know Altidore, Michael Bradley or Sebastian Giovinco can strike at a moments notice, but Crew SC mustn’t lose sight of role players like Victor Vazquez or Jonathan Osorio.
Crew SC can walk out of Toronto with an upset on Saturday if the team stays compact and force Toronto to the outside. The Black & Gold conceded the series clinching goal in the East Finals when they allowed players to work into the middle of the park.
To prevent this from occurring again, expect to see Wil Trapp drop back and support the center backs as they close down on the Toronto attack.
Offensively, Columbus looks to get the ball wide.
If preseason is any indication, Harrison Afful and Zardes have some great on-the-field chemistry. Look for the Ghanian to work in crosses to the new Crew SC striker to generate quality scoring opportunities.
It’s been a couple of years since Columbus had a striker that is a mix of power and finesse, and the Black & Gold could be very successful on Saturday depending on version of Zardes shows up in Toronto.