At around midseason, sports teams start to realise their mortality. A bad start can no longer be characterised as such, it is now just a bad season. Teams who are out of the playoffs start to realise how difficult it will be to get back above the red line.
That is what seems to be happening in Columbus this week, as the 9th place team in the MLS Eastern Conference kicks off the second half of their season. Words like "must win" have been used to describe today's match, and it might not just be for narrative reasons.
The Crew are currently six points out of a playoff spot. That's not insurmountable by any stretch of the imagination, but also not an easy margin to make up in an Eastern Conference that is once again incredibly tight. Tonight is the first game of an extended home stand for the Crew, where they will be hoping to make up that margin.
So it will be a motivated Crew side that Toronto FC will face today, and therefore despite their opponents record, there will be nothing easy about today's match. The Crew will be desperate for all three points, while Toronto will have to be in good road form if they want points of their own.
As opposed the Columbus, who have not won in their last five MLS matches, Toronto come into this game in decent form, as a crucial 1-0 victory over the Chicago Fire put them back in the thick of things as far as the playoff race goes.
However, after just finding their feet again at home, Toronto will be forced back onto the road this week, playing against the San Jose Earthquakes and Columbus Crew. Toronto has been decent on the road this season, with a 3 wins, 2 draws and 5 losses.
The club's strong defensive shape translates well to the road, where they can slow down matches and catch teams on the counterattack. However, the issue often becomes teams attacking Toronto early, and them not being prepared.
Allowing early away goals has been a problem for Toronto all year, sometimes they have been able to fight back, but other times it has cost them. Their last two away matches, against Orlando City SC and the New York Red Bulls, both saw costly early goals allowed.
Toronto FC is not a team that scores plenty of goals, so fighting from behind in any situation is not ideal, let alone away from home. However, they may be getting some help on that front, as Jozy Altidore looks set to return to the lineup as early as this game.
Don't expect him to play any major minutes, mind, as the club tries not to rush him back from just his latest hamstring injury. But he will be on the field sooner rather than later, and Toronto will reap the benefits.
Projected Starting XI: