After some of the more dramatic days in club history, the Columbus Crew returns to the field amidst the chaos to take on Trillium Cup rivals Toronto FC. Coming off of a 3-1 win at home against D.C. United, the Crew looks to continue the team’s momentum on the road against TFC.
Toronto is struggling early under new head coach Chris Armas and is winless thus far in the 2021 MLS season. In fact, TFC has only won once in seven tries in all competitions this year. This adds extra incentive in this match for Toronto.
As the Black & Gold look to continue their on-field momentum with all of the off-field distractions going on, let’s take a look at what we may see from both sides in this contest.
Toronto FC at a Glance:
Record: 0-2-1, 1 point
League Form: L-D-L
Leading Scorer: Jonathan Osorio, Luke Singh, Richie Laryea, Marco Delgado (1)
Assist Leader: Jahkeele Marshall- Rutty(1)
Player to Watch: Ayo Akinola
Akinola took the MLS by storm last summer in the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando and has continued his hot form since. In fact, the striker has scored 11 times in 37 games with Toronto’s first team.
After graduating from the TFC Academy, Akinola became a sought-after prospect for both the Canadian and United States Men’s National Teams. Akinola also attracted interest from European clubs all over the continent. While the future is bright for the 21 year old, he will be focused on opening up his scoring account in 2021 in this match.
Akinola’s combination of both speed and power makes him a nightmare for opposing defenses. The forward’s finishing ability is what separates him as one of the most exciting prospects in the league. As mentioned, Akinola has tallied 11 goals for Toronto. However, Akinola’s xG (expected goals) from these same games is only 8.51, meaning that he is outperforming his xG tally by three.
The promising prospect has been at the heart of the majority of TFC attacks this year and Wednesday night will likely be no different.
How Toronto FC play:
Former New York Red Bulls boss Chris Armas is in his first year at the helm in Toronto and has wasted no time implementing some of his principles and tactics with his new squad. That being said, Toronto still has the lasting impact of former coach and current LA Galaxy boss Greg Vanney lurking in their play. Crew head coach Caleb Porter commented that he sees a “mixture of both” bosses in the current TFC side. More specifically, he mentioned the possession and positional play of Greg Vanney, as well as the pressing and defensive intensity of Chris Armas.
Toronto has played a few different ways thus far in 2021 and has different philosophies on both sides of the ball. Defensively, TFC is a very high-pressing and energetic team, which is the style that Armas employed extensively in his coaching career. Toronto will likely look to press high up the field and win the ball in the Columbus half, shortening their distance to goal.
Offensively, TFC is a bit more patient and has an emphasis on maintaining possession throughout the game. However, in more recent games, Armas’ side added a new wrinkle to the offensive philosophy, playing very direct out of their defensive third of the field against the Red Bulls, before trying to secure and maintain possession in the attacking half. This is likely a response to the team’s recent lapses in defensive transitions that have caused issues so far this year.
Toronto is still trying to find its offensive identity in 2021, which places an even higher emphasis on the defensive pressure to create offense. The Black & Gold will need to be well prepared for this pressure and have the ability to adapt to whichever offensive style TFC employs.
How the Crew can win:
This game presents a ton of challenges for the Crew. Aside from being a midweek match in Orlando against Canadian opposition, the Black & Gold also face squad rotation issues due to numerous injuries and match congestion. However, there are still some things that Columbus can focus on to earn a valuable road win.
Firstly, and most importantly, the Crew needs to do an excellent job handling the pressure from Toronto. As discussed, TFC will defend and applying pressure high up the field in the Columbus half. The Black & Gold, and specifically the goalkeeper, defenders and central midfielders need to work well together in order to not turn the ball over in dangerous areas. As mentioned, Toronto has struggled offensively and will be reliant on creating turnovers in the Crew’s half to help them create chances. Doing a good job of handling and beating the pressure will help them eliminate TFC’s offense, as well as help create chances on the other side.
Another important aspect of the Black & Gold’s game will be to maintain possession in the middle and final thirds of the field. This is important for a few reasons. Firstly, it means Columbus successfully beat the Toronto press. Secondly, it will force TFC to defend in a way the team is not comfortable doing.
Toronto is poor at defending close to their goal. This is largely due to the limitations that are present when trying to apply high pressure in those areas. Doing so can result in space close to the goal for an opponent to exploit, as well as lead to dangerous fouls and set pieces for the opposition. Thus, when TFC is forced to defend closer to the team’s goal, they are taken out of their defensive game plan and are not nearly as effective.
Lastly, the Crew can kill Toronto in attacking transition. TFC has leaked goals this year and the majority of them have come just seconds after losing possession. Due to the team’s attacking style, there is often space behind the Toronto backline that can be exploited if it is attacked quickly. With Columbus’ pace and quality in attack, this could be devastating when counterattacking.
A specific moment for Black & Gold supporters to look for is any time the team wins the ball from TFC and faces the attacking goal. If and when the Crew wins the ball in these moments, they will do well to quickly attack the Toronto goal and cause problems on the break. This will lead to chance after chance.