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Massive Scouting Report: Toronto FC

A look at what the Reds bring to Columbus.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Toronto FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto FC is set for a trip down to Central Ohio for a matchup with the Columbus Crew this Saturday. No matter how important the Trillium Cup is to you, this is an important game for the Black & Gold. The Crew is coming off of an incredibly disappointing 3-3 draw on the road to the San Jose Earthquakes. Normally, Columbus fans would be pleased with a point on the road in league play. However, the Black & Gold gave away the match last Saturday, blowing a 3-1 lead by allowing two set piece goals in the last 10 minutes, all with a man advantage.

This Saturday is a chance for head coach Caleb Porter and his team to get back to winning ways against a longtime rival in Toronto. TFC enters this match winless in the team’s first two matches and is coming off a 4-1 thumping at the hands of the New York Red Bulls last week.

This match not only presents a chance for the Black & Gold to get back to winning ways, but also a chance to establish what kind of team Crew fans can expect this year. Anything short of a victory will be viewed as another letdown, while a convincing home victory will be a cause for optimism throughout the fan base.

Here’s what Toronto will look like and how the Crew can take three points from this matchup.

Toronto FC at a Glance:

Record: 0-1-1 (1 Point)

Leading Scorer: Jesus Jimenez, Jonathan Osorio (1)

Assist Leader: Jesus Jimenez, Luca Petrasso (1)

Player to Watch: Alejandro Pozuelo

Pozuelo has quickly made a name for himself in MLS. The 30-year-old Spaniard has accumulated 24 goals and 15 assists in 84 appearances since joining Toronto in March of 2019. Pozuelo was also named MLS MVP in 2020 with nine goals and four assists. While he has yet to regain his MVP form, Pozuelo is always a danger on the ball and excels with his passing and vision in the attacking third. Pozuelo can also provide the scoring at times for Toronto and often finds himself in dangerous areas at the top of the opponent's penalty box. The Crew will need to do an excellent job limiting Pozuelo in order to take three points from TFC on Saturday.

How Toronto plays:

Former United States Men’s National Team and LAFC head coach Bob Bradley was named as the Toronto FC head coach this offseason. Tasked with rebuilding TFC after a disappointing 2021 campaign which saw the team finish 26th out of 27 MLS teams. Bradley has made changes to TFC’s roster but is yet to make many big changes to how TFC plays.

Usually employing a 4-3-3 formation, Bradley’s group has a huge emphasis on trying to control matches through maintaining possession of the ball. Toronto actually leads the league in possession share so far in 2022. Despite their dominance in possession, Toronto has struggled to create quality chances in front of goal thus far.

Defensively, Toronto is not really a high pressing team. Instead preferring to stay in a solid defensive shape and limit their opponents' opportunities to go forward. Thus far in 2022, TFC has really struggled in both attacking and defensive transition. Crew fans can expect more of the same from Toronto this week as Bradley looks to continue to instill his style of play into his new team.

How the Crew can win:

It’s fair to say that through two matches, the Black & Gold have looked to be a better side than Toronto thus far in 2022. In the same breath, it’s important to mention that it’s very difficult to have any concrete conclusions about anyone in the MLS after just two matches. That being said, the Black & Gold are certainly the favorites in this matchup, but will have to do very well in a few areas to take maximum advantage of their opponents.

Last week, Toronto was repeatedly exploited in defensive transition. The Red Bulls were able to quickly transition into the attack and threaten the TFC goal throughout the entire match. As mentioned, Toronto does a good job maintaining possession and often can do so for long periods of time.

When the Reds are in possession, they prefer to use an expansive shape that involves pushing their outside backs into high and wide positions and moving their wingers into more central attacking positions, similar to the Crew. Due to this shape, the Toronto backline is very exposed when they lose the ball. If the Black & Gold are able to quickly progress the ball up the field, there will be space for them to exploit. Columbus can look to utilize the speed of players like Luis Diaz, Yaw Yeboah and Derrick Etienne Jr. on the wings to get in behind the TFC backline. If the Crew is able to quickly progress the ball up the field, they will be able to threaten the TFC goal often throughout the match.

The not so quiet elephant in the room after last week’s draw with San Jose was the dreadful set piece defending that the Crew put on display late in the match. There’s a saying that set pieces are the great equalizer in soccer. Essentially meaning that a team of lesser quality, or a team that hasn’t performed as well as their opponent, can level the playing field or indeed the score on set pieces. One can safely assume that TFC is aware of Columbus’ set piece woes from last week and will be looking to exploit them again this week.

The Crew needs to do a good job defending set pieces and not allowing TFC any scoring opportunities from set pieces in this match. As discussed, Toronto has struggled to create opportunities when in possession, and if the Black & Gold allows them to create chances on set pieces, it could act as the great equalizer again this week.

Lastly, the Crew needs to be very organized defensively in this match. In Vancouver and San Jose, Columbus has yet to face a team that focuses on creating the majority of its chances through possession yet in 2022. There have been very few times so far this season where the Black & Gold have been asked to defend for long periods of time.

When defending against teams like TFC, the Crew will likely be asked to defend for long periods of time and will be required to shift and apply pressure at different times and in different areas of the field. When doing so, it’s important that Columbus remain organized to limit the spaces that TFC can exploit. If just one player is pulled out of position or applies pressure to the wrong opponent or at the wrong time, it could leave the backline exposed. The Crew have traditionally been pretty good in this phase of the game under Porter but haven’t yet been asked to do so yet in 2022. If the Crew can solidly defend Toronto for long periods of time, they will effectively minimize the attacking chances TFC is able to create.