Another week has passed and Columbus Crew SC earn a valuable point on the road in a 0-0. The Black & Gold held off a hungry Sporting Kansas City club. Goalkeeper Zack Steffen turned in another miraculous performance for Crew SC, making three saves to preserve another clean sheet.
The goalkeeper didn’t do it alone, receiving key contributions from his back line and second-year player Lalas Abubakar. The Ghanaian continued his stellar run of form and snuffed out quality chances from SKC forwards Johnny Russell and Khiry Shelton.
On Saturday, it doesn’t get any easier for the Black & Gold with defending MLS Cup Champions Toronto FC coming MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday. Since being bounced in the CONCACAF Champions League Final, Toronto looks a shell of their former selves. The Reds have captured just three points in their last four games and sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference.
Head coach Greg Vanney looks to breathe life into his struggling team, making formation changes, playing different groups of players and even playing players out of position. Nothing seems to work for the Toronto and it appears to suffer from one helluva Champions League hangover.
Toronto at a glance:
Leading Scorer: Five players tied with 2 goals
Assists Leader: Sebastian Giovinco (2)
Besides failing to qualify the United States for the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, Michael Bradley’s struggles continue to follow him to the club level. Toronto has been visited by the injury bug this season and many of its center back have been claimed as a result.
Vanney has commissioned the 30-year-old Bradley to step into a center back role at times this season, to which he has left a lot to be desired. Bradley looks unsure of himself and loses his swagger when he is forced to play along the backline. As a result, the Toronto defense appears to be in shambles and leave themselves susceptible to the counter attack.
Against the New England Revolution, Bradley’s silly giveaway in the fourth minute allowed Revs forward Cristian Penilla to steal the ball and march down the field for an easy one-on-one opportunity with TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono.
More pressure on the Toronto backline yielded another goal as the Revolution overloaded Bradley and forced him to use his drop to relieve pressure. The Revs were rewarded as this amplified the pressure on Bono, forcing him into a sloppy turnover and an easy second goal.
All three goals in this game came from Toronto turnovers in the defensive third. Expect Gregg Berhalter to have his forwards press high and overwhelm the opposition. New England laid out a great roadmap for Crew SC and it could yield tremendous results on Saturday night.
Despite the troubles on defense for Toronto, Sebastian Giovinco always lurks in the shadows. The Italian striker is ready to pounce at a moment’s notice and still possesses an ability to hurt opponents from the run of play or from dead-ball situations.
Giovinco might not be putting up the same numbers as he has in the past (two goals and four assists in eight matches), but don’t discount the “Atomic Ant” and his ability to turn the game on its head out of nowhere.
How Crew SC win
Berhalter and his staff have a variety of ways to attack Toronto this week. All indications point to TFC running some variation of a 3-5-2 during on Saturday night. Bradley looks sure to feature at the middle of the center back trio as he has in recent matches due to the injuries.
The most pressure will be generated as Gyasi Zardes and another runner, as they hope to overload Bradley. This will cause chaos at the back and TFC will be forced to compensate. The Black & Gold need to take shots on Bono during this time of disarray and look to capitalize on any rebounds of loose balls that may present themselves.
Another way to attack this Toronto defense is to play a more direct style of soccer. Crew SC could opt to hit long balls to one of the forwards up top and opt to get into a footrace with the TFC backline.
Again, Bradley would be a prime candidate because opposing teams go right after him and he isn’t able to deal with wingers who continuously run right at him. If the Black & Gold can stick to the game plan outlined above and limit chances on (likely) Jon Kempin’s net, it’s not unreasonable to think Crew SC’s unbeaten streak continues.