There are trends developing for the Columbus Crew. Losing on road. Losing to Toronto FC. Both keep happening. The Black & Gold fell again to their Reds rival, 2-0 at Exploria Stadium on Saturday night, marking the team’s first Major League Soccer defeat of the 2021 season.
The start of the opening 45 minutes did not go as the Crew planned. Columbus began on the back foot, looking disorganized going forward while trying to create chances. Meanwhile, Toronto was able to control much of the game in the early portions, dominating possession.
Despite the slow start, the first real chance of the game went to the Black & Gold in the 11th minute. Winger Alexandru Matan, making his first start for Columbus, cut on to his right foot from the left side and beat two defenders before launching a shot that went wide — but not that wide — of Alex Bono’s goal.
Just two minutes after the Matan effort, TFC took the lead. The play came from a corner kick that the Crew struggled to clear. The ball twice fell to Michael Bradley, who fired a shot into the far corner and by goalkeeper Eloy Room for the midfielder’s first MLS goal since September of 2019.
Similar to in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League against Monterrey, Gyasi Zardes had a chance to level the match just three minutes later but failed to do so. The Columbus forward received a ball in behind the Toronto defense and took a dandy first touch but waited on the shot and failed to force Bono into a difficult save.
In the 20th minute, it seemed that Ayo Akinola had a great chance to put the home side up 2-0. The forward got in behind the Crew defense but fired his shot wide. As it turned out, Akinola was offside.
Six minutes later, Toronto should have gone up 2-0 but the Black & Gold were saved by right back Saad Abdul-Salaam. TFC winger Nick DeLeon found himself free on the back side after a shot off the post and an open net. He put his shot on frame but Abdul-Salaam’s sliding effort denied the goal.
Winger Luis Diaz forced Bono into another save in the 31st minute. The right winger found himself on the left-hand side and cut on to his more dominant right foot. The shot from outside the penalty box was saved by the diving TFC goalkeeper.
To open the second half, Matan had a chance to pull the game level. The Romanian received a knockdown header from Zardes and dribbled across the top of the penalty box but never pulled the trigger on the shot before he was eventually dispossessed.
Another corner kick for TFC in the 53rd minute had to be cleared off the line by Darlington Nagbe after some more questionable defending by the Crew. The ball fell to an open Omar Gonzalez, who put the shot on frame, but thankfully the Black & Gold’s No. 6 was there to clear.
While Columbus had a couple of half chances, the Crew struggled to create much on the offensive end. Meanwhile, Toronto was able to counter the other way.
In the 75th minute, TFC striker Jozy Altidore, who came on as a substitute in the second half, rocketed a shot off the crossbar from 20 yards out.
Altidore got his goal in the end, however, with just minutes left in the match. The U.S. Men’s National Team forward got on the end of a Gonzalez header off yet another set piece to head the ball into the goal from less than a yard out for his goal since last September.
A 2-0 advantage was all Toronto needed for the team’s first win of 2021.
Fatigue setting in
Both the Crew and Toronto came into this game having played seven previous contests in just over a month between MLS and Champions League play causing plenty of fatigue. Both teams had injuries that limited what was on the bench.
This was evident by the slow play of both teams throughout. From a Columbus perspective, however, giving up two easy goals on set pieces made life easy on Toronto, instead of making the home side work for goals and, ultimately, the win.
What’s the opposite of road warriors?
The last time the Crew won a game on the road was Sept. 14, 2019, against Atlanta. Since then, Columbus has dropped 14 straight road matches, including not winning a true road game all of 2020.
What’s good about that is that the team won the 2020 MLS Cup despite not winning on the road, but it’s hard to imagine that continuing. The Black & Gold have a full MLS regular season this year, after the COVID-shortened season of a year ago — and likely won’t get so lucky in the playoffs to host every game, especially if the team can’t start winning on the road.
Thankfully, the Crew is back on the field again quickly once again. Anotherfast turnaround sees Columbus travel to the New England Revolution on Sunday. That game will kick off at 6 p.m. ET and will air on ESPN2.