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Preview: Toronto FC eye their first victory of the new MLS season against Columbus SC

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Fourth time’s a charm?

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Toronto FC Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO, Canada—Following the 2-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls in match-day three of the 2021 MLS season, Toronto FC has gotten off to their worst start to a league campaign since 2012.

With just one point from three games, TFC, along with the Chicago Fire and FC Cincinnati, are the only teams in the Eastern Conference who have yet to register an MLS victory in 2021.

Up next for the Reds is a “home” fixture against the recently rebranded Columbus Crew SC. Kickoff is set for 7:00 PM EST at the Exploria Stadium in Orlando.

After two goalless draws in their opening two matches, the Crew picked up their first three points of the season this past weekend after dispatching D.C. United 3-1 at home. Columbus is just one of three unbeaten sides left in the Eastern Conference and will be coming up against a Toronto team with a whole lot to prove after a dismal performance in New York.

TFC had just one shot on target against the Red Bulls, yet another sign of Toronto’s lack of attacking prowess during the early stages of the campaign. Ayo Akinola made his first MLS start of the season up front, but was largely ineffective in the final third. At the back, Chris Mavinga played his first minutes in MLS this year as he completed the full 90.

Another player who received their first minutes not only in MLS, but also for TFC was Yeferson Soteldo, who came off the bench in the second half to make his highly anticipated debut for Toronto. Fans were given just a small taste of the quality he looks set to bring to the side this season.

While Soteldo is in line to make his first TFC start against Columbus, Alejandro Pozuelo looks set to be ruled out once again. TSN reported that the reigning MLS MVP would remain sidelined for another seven to 14 days.

As well as the Spaniard, Ifunanyachi Achara, Julian Dunn and Erickson Gallardo were also not in the 18-man squad against New York and will remain out against Columbus.

Jonathan Osorio, who is the only TFC player to have scored more than once this season, is questionable for Wednesday with a right thigh injury, while Jozy Altidore is set to return after recovering from an illness.

New signing Kemar Lawrence will be available for selection and could make his TFC debut in Orlando. The club formally announced the Jamaican international’s arrival on Friday, with the full back returning to MLS after leaving the Red Bulls for Anderlecht in early 2020.

The online debate has also escalated with regards to Alex Bono’s place in the team. With 14 goals conceded and zero clean sheets in TFC’s opening seven games in all competitions, many have called for Quentin Westberg to be given the opportunity to reclaim his place as Toronto’s first choice goalkeeper. Bono is very much a man on thin ice and will need to win over his doubters if he gets the nod in goal against Columbus.

On the goalscoring front, Toronto has bagged just four goals in three MLS games and eight in seven across all competitions. All in all, it’s been a feeble start to the season in front of goal, with TFC now at risk of going three games without a goal after drawing blanks against both Cruz Azul and the Red Bulls.

As for the Crew, each of their three MLS goals this season came in the victory against D.C. over the weekend. That game also saw the reigning MLS Cup champions concede their first and only league goal of the campaign thus far. With the best defensive record in the entire league, Columbus’ dogged back line will have their sights set on a third clean sheet in four against a Toronto side who are in dire needs of some goals.

Wednesday’s match will be the 39th meeting in history between Toronto and Columbus, with Toronto having won this fixture 11 times. The Crew, meanwhile, have triumphed on 14 occasions, while 13 encounters finished all square.

Recent results have favoured Toronto, as the Reds are unbeaten in 11 of their last 13 games against Columbus. The most recent clash between these two sides saw TFC emerge 3-1 victors thanks to goals from Altidore, Pozuelo and Richie Laryea. Altidore’s goal in that game was his sixth for TFC against the Crew, making him the second top scorer in the matchup’s history (behind Federico Higuaín’s 10).

After three games, there’s already some ground to make up for Armas and co., but a victory over the reigning MLS Cup champions will undoubtedly serve as a major morale booster for TFC and their injury-stricken squad. With Soteldo in the fold for a place in the starting lineup, let’s hope he can spur the Reds to an overdue first MLS win of the season.