After the Columbus Crew’s first road win in well over a year, the Black & Gold return to Columbus to face Trillium Cup rivals Toronto FC in the penultimate match in historic Crew Stadium. Toronto’s only league victory of the season was against the Crew just a few short weeks ago and they will be looking to duplicate that result after a 1-0 loss on the road to Orlando City in the team’s last match.
Conversely, the Crew looks to build momentum after a performance for the ages from Lucas Zelarayan led Columbus to just the team’s second league victory this year. Both sides were expected to be at the top of the Eastern Conference at the beginning of the season and are looking to climb the table sooner rather than later.
Let’s take a look at what to expect from Toronto and how the Crew can counteract the opponent in this match.
Toronto FC at a Glance:
Record: 1-3-2, 5 points
League Form: L-D-W-L-D
Leading Scorer: Jonathan Osorio, Luke Singh, Richie Laryea, Marco Delgado, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Jacob Shaffelburg (1)
Assist Leader: Jahkeele Marshall- Rutty, Omar Gonzalez, Patrick Mullins (1)
Player to Watch: Yeferson Soteldo
While still new to MLS, Soteldo has already caught the attention of the rest of the league so far in 2021. The 23-year-old Venezuelan international joined Toronto in April of this year from Brazilian club Santos FC.
Despite his size (5-foot-3), Soteldo is not a hard person to find on the field. Often at the heart of Toronto attacks, Soteldo has been influential for TFC in the four games he has participated in thus far in the 2021 campaign. Soteldo is remarkably gifted with the ball at his feet and has a knack for turning defenders and weaseling himself out of tight spaces.
Soteldo has a similar effect for Toronto as Zelarayan has for the Crew. His ability to draw defenders to him often creates space for the likes of Jozy Altidore and Ayo Akinola to attack. In addition to this, Soteldo is more than capable of finding the back of the net himself with 57 goals over the length of his professional career. The Black & Gold will need to be keen to Soteldo’s whereabouts on Saturday if the home team is to successfully stall the Toronto attack.
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 FC still has the lasting impact of former coach and current LA Galaxy boss Greg Vanney lurking in the team’s play. Crew head coach Caleb Porter commented that he sees a “mixture of both” head coaches in the current TFC side. More specifically, he mentioned the possession and positional play of Vanney, as well as the pressing and defensive intensity of 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 has employed extensively this far in his coaching career. Toronto will likely look to press high up the field and win the ball in the Columbus half, shortening thei distance to goal.
Offensively, the Reds are a bit more patient and have an emphasis on maintaining possession throughout the game. However, in more recent games, TFC has added a new wrinkle to the team’s offensive philosophy. In the most recent match against the Red Bulls, Toronto was very direct when playing out of the defensive third of the field, before trying to secure and maintain possession in their attacking half.
This is likely a response to Toronto’s recent lapses in defensive transitions that have haunted the team so far this year. Regardless, TFC is still trying to find its offensive identity in 2021. This 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 Toronto employs.
How the Crew can win:
As the Black & Gold look to continue to build momentum in the MLS, there are a few important areas for the team to focus on to make sure they take away three points from this game.
Firstly, and probably most importantly, the Crew needs to find a way to be more dangerous in the attack. Columbus is yet to score from the run of play without the help of the D.C. United backline and has looked short of ideas in the final third. This is a trend that needs to be bucked quickly as it will be hard to rely on Zelarayan to convert every free kick he takes this season.
One thing the Black & Gold can look to do is to create more width in the attacking third with their wide players, including Pedro Santos, Derrick Etienne Jr., Luis Diaz, Waylon Francis and Harrison Afful. By keeping these players in wide areas it will create space for the likes of Gyasi Zardes and Zelarayan to attack. This was the main feature of the Crew attack in 2020 that has gone by the wayside in 2021. If Columbus is able to do this successfully it could lead to a lot of chances for their central attackers.
Secondly, the Black & Gold need to be much better defensively when dealing with crosses from wide areas. The majority of the goals the Crew has given up this year have come either directly off of a cross or as a result of not being able to effectively clear the ball off of a cross. This was one of the Columbus backline’s strengths in 2020 and something that has been a glaring weakness so far in 2021. If the Black & Gold are going to be an effective defensive team this year, it’s something they will have to sure up quickly as opponents are no doubt going to be looking to exploit the Crew in this area.
Lastly, Columbus needs to dominate possession in this match. Both Toronto and the Crew have a huge emphasis on keeping the ball and the team that is able to maintain possession for the majority of the time will have a huge leg up in this match. Toronto has been leaking goals this year as a result of their poor defending. If the Black & Gold can make them defend for large portions of time in this match, they will no doubt reap the rewards in the attacking third.