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Know Your Enemy: Columbus Crew – Meeting the Third

A single installment of the Know Your Enemy series, previewing TFC's upcoming opponent, the Columbus Crew

Higuain from the Spot - a Familiar Sight this Season
Higuain from the Spot - a Familiar Sight this Season
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The modest streak has been snapped, Toronto FC returns to the pitch on Saturday in hopes of starting anew – and perhaps picking up a little silverware in the process.

The Trillium Cup, though hardly the most prestigious of bounties, flowered from the nascent rivalry between TFC and the Columbus Crew in 2008.

Only once, through its five incarnations, has Toronto managed to outmanouevre their American opponent – in 2011. This year’s edition is delicately poised, shaded slightly in Columbus’ favour – both matches were played in Toronto (away goals is the first tie-breaker) with each winning a match and each scoring two goals in the process.

The winner takes the spoils, a tie – if 2-2 or less – will see the Crew victorious, while 3-3 or higher hands TFC the away-goals advantage.

It has only been three weeks since the two last met at BMO Field in Toronto, with a pair of late TFC strikes proving decisive; much of what was written then is still apt, though, a closer look at the enemy is in order.

Recent Form

After failing in Toronto, Columbus would see there losing streak stretched to three matches the following weekend, with a disappointing 3-1 loss in Houston.

The Crew were never really in the match – their goal, an own-goal.

Brad Davis opened the scoring after ten minutes from the penalty spot, when Giles Barnes was taken down in the box by Chad Marshall and Andy Gruenebaum.

Will Bruin would add a second just after the half-hour mark, after Oscar Boniek Garcia forced a turnover in midfield from Augustin Viana, charged towards goal and laid out left to the striker to slot home.

Columbus showed some signs of life – Federico Higuain would lash a strike off the bar – finally scoring when Kofi Sarkodie turned into his own net, trying to snuff out a chance from Ryan Finley in the 75th minute, when a Kevan George scuffed shot was corralled and teed up for a strike by the young forward.

Any hopes of a comeback were ended when Cam Weaver smashed his second in as many games.

Their most recent match, was an impressive 2-0 win over New York that featured a slightly-adjusted, more attacking lineup (more on that later).

Higuain scored both goals, first from the penalty spot after Marcus Holgersson shoved Chad Marshall on the end of a deep free-kick – it was his fifth from seven penalty attempts – and then with a lovely, delicate chip as he approached the corner of the box after Wil Trapp threaded a ball down the right for the Argentine.

It was just their second win in their last eight matches; coming in front of new owner Anthony Precount as well.

Last Meeting

July 27 – Toronto 2: Columbus 1

Columbus took an early lead through Dominic Oduro in the 17th minute when a long ball from Matias Sanchez sprung the speedster into space down the right and his early, low shot beat Joe Bendik to the near-post.

Then the skies opened up.

Jonathan Osorio finally found an equalizer in the 87th minute. Bobby Convey moved in-field from the right, played up to Jeremy Brockie, who touched into the path of Osorio. His first time, left-footed finish over Andy Gruenebaum found the right-side of the goal sparking a shirt-off celebration that saw him booked for his display of passion.

Steven Caldwell watched a game-winning header off the post before Andrew Wiedeman struck in the 94th minute. Again Brockie and Convey played providers, the former playing up to the latter, who hit a lovely swinging cross to the back-post.

Wiedeman did very well to get his left-boot on the service, and cushion it back to the right-side of the goal, trickling into the side-netting to make the final, 2-0.

The win was Toronto’s first at BMO Field in over a year.

Projected Lineup

Their projected lineup is as follows: Matt Lampson in goal; from right to left – Chad Barson, Chad Marshall (too many Chads), Josh Williams, and Augustin Viana across the backline; Wil Trapp (yes, one L) holding the middle of the park with Dominic Oduro, Bernardo Anor, and Justin Meram across the midfield; Federico Higuain roaming off the shoulder of Jairo Arrieta, who leads the line.

football formations

As mentioned, Columbus crew-boss, Robert Warzycha, finally tinkered with his lineup prior to the match against New York.

Abandoning his two-man defensive midfield, Trapp was paired with attack-minded Anor in the middle, with the youngster proving himself quite adept at holding his own, very early into his young career.

Anor through the middle, as well as Meram and Oduro on the wings, provide more attacking thrust to the Crew, while simultaneous freeing Higuain from needing to drop deep to get on the ball.

Higuain, like most of his ilk, are far more useful closer to goal; by filling in the void in front of the defensive midfield with Anor, he is freed to roam and find those attacking gaps that make him such a threat.

Several players missed out on the weekend due to injury. Regular starting keeper Andy Gruenebaum is dealing with some shoulder troubles, while Danny O’Rourke and Matias Sanchez were also withheld from the win over New York.

It is unclear at the moment whether they are fit enough to return, but there is little impetus to change a winning lineup.

Additional Notes

Not much to add to previous incarnations regarding the Crew, but Higuain’s chip against New York is worth a watch (Anatomy of a Goal-style).

A few things of note from the goal: Trapp’s ball down the right is exemplary of the calming influence he has on the game. Though nominally a stopper, he has displayed this ability to pick the correct ball, rather than just playing the safe, though static, pass.

Higuain’s lack of speed should have negated that chance – the defenders were going to catch up to him, hence the early shot – but Luis Robles panicked and came out to meet him, opening up the space for the chip.

On the other side of the ball, Will Bruin’s goal for Houston provides an insight into the value of pressing a team with a slow backline.

Garcia recognizes a poor touch from Viana and steals in on goal, trapping most of Columbus up-field for, to steal a hockey term, a three-on-two.

Warzycha needed to make a change, but as with all tactical adjustment there comes a cost.

From Arrieta back to Anor, assuming the projected lineup, there is nary a two-way player amongst them. Meram, as shown in the Anatomy video above, is slowly adding that aspect to his game converting from a forward to a wide attacker.

The point being that, if Toronto can force Columbus into making high risk passes, they can be caught with limited numbers at the back and a lack of pace; with their new formation, there is one less possible defender to beat.

As noted in the last edition, Columbus has struggled to defend service from the wide areas. Both of Toronto’s goals came from such deliveries, while Houston’s third came from a neat early ball – from Garcia on the right - to the top of the box, where Bruin controlled and the untracked Weaver lashed it home.

Watch for Osorio, as he did in the last meeting, to find some joy as that late man into the box.

A note on penalty kicks: Columbus has been involved a lot of penalty incidents. They have been awarded seven and conceded three.

Higuain has taken all seven, converting five and has shown some impressive variability in his placement – no surprise there.

His hit on the weekend to beat Robles, whom he stared down for the third time this season - Robles had denied him back in May, but Higuain got the better of him in their second duel - was a thunderous belter, high into the net straight down the middle.

Confidently struck; given the disastrous result when he tried to beat Donovan Ricketts at the start of July.

Six of his seven penalties have come at Crew Stadium; they are always taken with the right-foot; he lines up – and runs – as if moving along the hypotenuse of an imaginary triangle, with the slightest of delays before striking.

Three times he has gone straight down the middle opting for power; twice he has gone low to the keeper’s right; once high to the keeper’s right, and was saved when he did not get enough height, going to the keeper’s right, again.

Toronto has only been involved in four penalty situations – two for and two against – the most recent coming at the end of June; feels like they are due.

Robert Earnshaw converted both attempts, while both Patrice Bernier and Dwayne De Rosario scored past Bendik.

Hmm, seems only Canadians are allowed to score from the spot on TFC this season – odds on Will Johnson getting one when in Portland?