Columbus Crew SC and Toronto FC faced off in a top-of-the-conference battle in East Hartford Connecticut on Sunday night. The Crew was left with the team’s second defeat of the year and gave up its most goals of any game this year, falling 3-1. Columbus scored through an own goal in a bright first half before Jozy Altidore, Alejandro Pozuelo and Richie Laryea responded with second half goals to power past the Black & Gold.
Both teams opened the game with a frenetic pace. Toronto and Columbus aggressively moved the ball forward, looking for an early opener. The Crew looked more likely to break through early.
It was the Black & Gold who created the first big chance with a piercing Pedro Santos run down the left wing in the eighth minute. Luis Diaz made an opposite side run that forced a vital clearance from Justin Morrow before the speedy winger could get a touch in front of the net.
Columbus added a couple of good chances as the game approached the halfway point of the opening 45 minutes. In the 20th minute, Santos sent in a left-sided cross that Chris Mavinga met with a clearing header. Diaz took the clearance in the penalty box and rifled a shot goalward. Mavinga came up with the second defensive action of the attack and saved the shot off the goal line to keep the game scoreless.
A couple of minutes later, Lucas Zelarayan corraled a Harrison Afful pass and slide out of a tackle. The playmaker chipped a ball into the space behind the defense and in front of Quentin Westberg. Gyasi Zardes chested the b all and poked a shot towards goal, but Westberg blocked the chance.
The next Crew chance came off a Diaz tackle on Mavinga in the 33rd minute. The winger showed off great technique to turn defense into offense. Sebastian Berhalter picked up the loose ball in midfield and found Zelarayan. The Argentine playmaker took the space that the Toronto defense gave him and fired off an impressive dipping shot that cleared Westberg’s goal by two yards.
Columbus got their first half opener through another dangerous Santos attacking pass. The winger sent in an early cross looking for a Zardes run. Mavinga slid to meet the ball and his clearance drove past Westberg and put the Crew up 1-0 in the 40th minute.
Toronto used the team’s possession to better effect immediately in the second half. The Reds cycled the ball to the right side of the offensive third. Richie Laryea drove in a low cross to Pozuelo who tried to create space, but quickly saw Altidore at the edge of the penalty box. He dropped the pass and the American striker drilled his shot on frame. Room got a touch to the attempt, but it was not enough and the home side tied the game in the 48th minute.
The Toronto pressure continued to unsettle the Crew attack as the half progressed as Columbus repeatedly turned over the ball in the mid-third. Pozuelo was the next Reds attacker to test the Crew goal. His shot from the edge of the 18-yard box rang the right crossbar and the second attempt was clipped over the ball by Jonathan Mensah in the 53rd minute.
Immediately following the Pozuelo chance, Lareya, again, caused danger from the right wing. He slipped past Berhalter and dribbled into the penalty area. The fullback drove his shot low, forcing Room to parry it wide and for a corner kick. The Crew was able to deal with the set piece danger to create a small bit of breathing room.
The relentless pressure soon turned the game around, as Toronto added a second goal in the 58th minute. The Columbus defense scrambled to take care of the danger and lost Pozuelo just outside the penalty area. The Spaniard bent a clinical shot past a stranded Room to make it 2-1.
Toronto looked comfortable as the second half wore on. The attacking line defended high and forced long, hopeful balls forward. The result was often a Crew turnover, as the home side pushed forward in search of an insurance goal.
That insurance goal came from a stunning move from Lareya. The fullback forced the substitution of Hector Jimenez earlier in the half, then beat Milton Valenzuela in the penalty box and fired a tight angle shot from close range to beat Room to make it 3-1 in the 76th minute.
Columbus had two shots as the game wound to the end, a Zelarayan effort that didn’t test Westberg and a Mokhtar effort that the keeper corralled easily.
On one hand
Columbus lost the possession battle 53 percent to 47 percent in the first half, but outshot the “home” side eight to one. Toronto was adrift and struggled to handle the aggressive pressing defense. Diaz had two tackles, showing the commitment to Caleb Porter’s game plan and how much it unsettled the Reds.
Pozuelo had 29 passes in the half, only one was in the final third. It was a corner kick that was easily handled by the Columbus defense. That’s how complete the domination was.
On the other
The second half was a different story. Columbus struggled to move into the offensive half of the field, often failing to clear the defensive third while the Reds scored three goals on nine shots. Columbus had two shots, a Zelarayan effort that went wide of the post and a Mokhtar effort that went straight at Westberg after the game was out of reach.
As much as Pozuelo struggled in the first half, Zelarayan disappeared in the second. He had 10 touches, three of them were kickoffs. It wasn’t Zelarayan’s fault. The team couldn’t get the ball forward. Likewise, Zardes had four touches, none in the attacking half.
The Crew conceded more goals in this game than the team had all season. The Black & Gold dropped to 9-2-3 on the year and remain at 30 points. Columbus is two points ahead of second place in the Eastern Conference, as the Philadelphia Union, Toronto and Orlando City SC continue to charge. The Crew gets a little break, with six days of rest before the team heads to Texas to face FC Dallas. The game is set for an 8:30 p.m. EET start on Saturday evening.