Last week's decisive win over the Montreal Impact was great - good team effort, nice goals, great away trip, but it was against the Montreal Impact. While beating the Impact in their own house speaks to Toronto FC finally doing what good teams do (win against the bad teams!); Montreal is a bad team - whereas Columbus, well they're a bit more of a sterner test.
TFC does of course already have possession of the coveted (what, someone could covet it!), Trillium Cup so really who cares about the outcome of just another league match? Well of course we do because faux cups are nice but points and widening the gap between the two teams in the table are better. TFC are actually in a decent place against the Columbus Crew in the table with a couple more points, two games in hand and hopefully some residual confidence from having already beaten them twice this season.
As with every other MLS team there is a history between TFC and the Crew in terms of players that have been traded for and traded away, with this season's Dominic Oduro for Alvaro Rey being the focal point. Even before Rey abruptly left MLS to go back to Spain for personal reasons, it seemed pretty clear that Toronto was going to come out on top of the trade. Rey barely played during his short time in Columbus, whereas Oduro has started to become an integral part of Toronto's attack. And for once TFC may benefit from a player wanting to show his old club that they made a mistake - not that I think Oduro has a lot of animosity towards the Crew but hey, no one (well usually) likes to be traded.
This season aside, Columbus is usually a tough test for Toronto having only beaten them four times (and seven draws) with only two wins in Columbus - one of those that trouncing in May earlier on this season. However historically this is not an easy fixture for TFC and will be a test of how far they've come this season as well as how they continue to adjust while missing several key players.
The main danger in facing the Crew is always Federico Higuain - he leads the Crew not only in goals scored but also in assists and has been responsible for half of Columbus' goals thus far. He's also recently found his form again and has scored in their last two games - Joyous! I cannot stress enough how important neutralising him is for TFC to be successful in this game - by no means should Toronto ignore the rest of the team except that like Brad Davis, Higuain always needs to be marked. Always.
Other than an in form Higuain, TFC face additional difficulties in that they are still missing three key players from the lineup with Jermain Defoe, Steven Caldwell and Mark Bloom all out for at least another week or two (although likely longer). Being without your top scorer is difficult for any team, add missing you captain and anchor to your defence - a defence that has certainly looked shakier than normal of late - and well, that's a little more difficult.
Questions for the defence will be whether or not Warren Creavalle can again exhibit the form he showed in Montreal and whether the backline as a whole can put in another strong performance. Doneil Henry and Nick Hagglund were solid against the Impact, while Justin Morrow had a fantastic game - all four will need to be communicating clearly with Joe Bendik and the midfield to snuff out any sudden speedy attacks and passing plays from the Crew.
As for scoring - who needs Defoe when we've got Ol Gil? OK of course we'd rather see Defoe out there with Gilberto, but it is hopeful that Gilberto is finding his touch (he certainly found his goal celebration), and is ready to start scoring on a consistent basis. He and Luke Moore paired well last weekend but (and no offence to Moore), we're really waiting for the Defoe and Gilberto show to start - I will continue to plead with Ryan Nelsen to make this happen upon Defoe's return - just imagine the havoc that those two can wreak together.
Player concerns aside this game is one of those measuring stick moments for Toronto. They showed last weekend that they can beat a weak team and do so convincingly and on the road at that. Now they face one of their mid-table brethren, in the meat of a four game road trip with table and playoff implications all around. A positive result of any kind is a necessity if Toronto are to prove that they are progressing and coming together as a team.
This game is also one of the few remaining opportunities for TFC to take advantage of all those games in hand as the games played column slowly balances itself out. Finally this game is in the middle of a long stretch of games that sees Toronto only facing Eastern Conference teams - they don't play outside the East until near the end of September. While every game counts, this stretch will make or break Toronto's season. Hopefully they will start doing another thing good teams do; win more than one game in a row, starting tonight. Come On You Reds!