With all the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 Major League Soccer season, it’s finally here Columbus Crew SC fans: the Trillium Cup. The longtime matchup against Eastern Conference rival Toronto FC takes shape for the first time this season and the stakes couldn’t be higher. The Black & Gold are looking to keep hold of their five-point lead over Toronto, the Philadelphia Union and Orlando City SC in the race for the Supporters’ Shield trophy.
Let’s take a look at the Black & Gold’s Trillium Cup rivals, Toronto FC.
Toronto FC at a glance
League Form: W-D-W-L-L
Position: 4th place, Eastern Conference (25 points)
Leading Scorer: Ayo Akinola (6 goals)
Assist Leader: Alejandro Pozuelo (8 assists)
Player to watch
“For us [Pozuelo’s] the engine through that final phase of our attack,” Toronto head coach Greg Vanney said of the Spanish playmaker when he first joined Toronto in 2019.
With five goals and eight assists so far in 2020 for the 29-year-old Pozuelo plays in the attacking midfield role and is as versatile as they come. Able to play anywhere in midfield or as a false nine, Pozuelo has the ability to play with the ball at both feet, is known for his vision and his creative flair while also having an eye for goal.
His first season in Toronto saw him included in the MLS Best XI after notching 12 goals and 12 assists en route to an MLS Cup appearance for The Reds.
How they play
Vanney has utilized Pozuelo’s full capabilities in 2020 playing him as both a No. 10 attacking midfielder and as a false nine as a forward. Most recently, Vanney lined Toronto up in a 4-1-2-1-2 formation, playing the Spaniard at the No. 10 position to supply the two strikers, Ayo Akinola and Jozy Altidore. While the formation decreases bodies in wide areas, it allows the fullbacks to push up into offensive positions and drops the central defensive midfield back to cover with the center backs. For a team deadly on the counterattack, this formation could play to the Black & Gold’s advantage.
TFC has long-used a 4-4-2 formation to allow for more service to the attackers from wide positions. This season, Vanney has played Toronto primarily with a slightly-altered version, a 4-4-1-1 formation, to allow the lone striker (either Altidore or Akinola) to receive service from Pozuelo while he looks for other openings elsewhere. It’s balanced, gives options and boasts success for this Toronto side and is evident by their 2020 season so far.
How the Crew win
The “issue” with Toronto’s 4-4-1-1 formation is that it can live and die by the end product of both Pozuelo and his striker up front. On a normal day, there isn’t an issue because of TFC’s quality in the final third. Speaking of the end product, Toronto has 44 goals scored in 2020 from open play, which is good for sixth-best in MLS. When compared to the mere five goals conceded by the Black & Gold defense, something has to give.
Something will definitely give come Sunday night. In the case of the Black & Gold, the Crew will win if they can not only limit the two attackers that Vanney decides to showcase but also limit options on Toronto’s right side. The attacking prowess of Pablo Piatti and Auro, who would be normally deployed in front of Milton Valenzuela, account for 40 percent of Toronto’s attack. The winger in front of the Argentinian may be called upon for some added defensive duties and if Columbus gets the Pedro Santos from Thursday night, the Black & Gold should be just fine.
If the Crew can limit the options for Toronto on the offensive front, putting the ball in the back of the net themselves should pose little to no issue. The backline of Toronto has been suspect in 2020 despite experienced shot-stopper Alex Bono being in the net for the Canadian side. Despite the team’s high position, Toronto has conceded 14 goals this season which ranks eighth-worst in the conference.
Luckily for this version of the Crew, defense has been the team’s strongest area of the field. If the Black & Gold can do what they’ve done all season and stay strong at the back, they’ll be one step closer to their first piece of silverware in the Caleb Porter era.