Toronto FC visit the Columbus Crew for the first leg of the Eastern Conference final.
No one will need to tell TFC that this round of the MLS playoffs can produce a painful, agonizing 180 - or 210 - minutes of soccer, and often the team that emerges is the one that just keeps chipping away at it for longest.
Columbus and Toronto are both genuinely skilled, accomplished sides, with coaches who insist on passing out of defence and building attacks in a structured, intelligent way.
Greg Vanney and Gregg Berhalter will hope that the work they have done over the past nine months will pay off when it matters most, but they will also know that sheer force of will can be as valuable as anything at this time of year.
Kick-off: 8 p.m. ET
Venue: Mapfre Stadium, Columbus
What’s Jonathan Osorio got in his locker?
It went a little unnoticed last season that the midfielder had a very good playoffs, scoring against the Philadelphia Union and New York City FC as well as one the final day of the regular season.
He’s rounded into form at the right time again this year and - in all probability - will get his chance to start with Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore out.
The 25-year-old’s evolution as a player this year has been very interesting. If you’re not a star, earning minutes in this midfield group is about carving yourself out a niche, a role that is both useful to the team and well-suited to your own game. Marky Delgado did that very early in the campaign; it took Osorio a little longer, but he’s a really nice fit in certain situations now.
There will be chances in this tie, so as important a matchup as any will be between the two goalkeepers.
Zack Steffen was spectacular against Atlanta United in the knockout round, while Alex Bono clearly outduelled Luis Robles in the semi-finals. The ability of either one of them to make a save they shouldn’t make - as well as not giving up anything easy, of course - could play a very big role in which team is hosting the MLS Cup final next month.
There’s more than just trophies on the line, too: there has to be a good chance at least one of these goalkeepers is making the next USA squad.
The opposition view
Ex-TFC defender Josh Williams says the ongoing relocation situation surrounding the Crew is not affecting their preparation for these playoff games:
“We’re talking about how it’s going to be a sell-out and the excitement; we’re not talking about anything else. We’re just [thinking] about the energy the crowd is going to provide us, and it’s hard to not feed on that when you have that type of energy in a home crowd environment. So we’re not worried about the negative stuff. We’re strictly focused on the task at hand and putting on a good show for everyone who shows up.”
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Scouting Toronto FC’s next opponent, the Columbus Crew
TV channel & live stream
TV: TSN 1, 3, 4 & 5 (Canada), ESPN (USA)
Stream: TSN Go (Canada), WatchESPN (USA), MLS Live (out of market)
Radio: TSN 1050 (Toronto), CD 102.5, LaMega 103.1 (Ohio)
Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore will serve one-game suspensions. Chris Mavinga was substituted in the last round, but has returned to training and is expected to be available.
Michael Bradley is a yellow card away from a suspension.
Columbus are without Gaston Sauro, Connor Maloney and Ben Swanson. Alex Crognale should be nearing a return to full health after sports hernia surgery, but is unlikely to be involved at this stage of the season.
The Crew have Hector Jimenez, Artur, Josh Williams and Mohammed Abu walking the yellow-card tightrope.
Columbus: Steffen; Afful, Mensah, Williams, Raitala; Trapp, Artur; Santos, Higuain, Meram; Kamara.
Subs: Stuver, Abubakar, Abu, Jimenez, Martinez, Jahn, Manneh.
Toronto: Bono; Beitashour, Moor, Mavinga, Morrow; Bradley; Hasler, Delgado, Osorio, Vazquez; Ricketts.
Subs: Irwin, Hagglund, Zavaleta, Edwards, Cheyrou, Cooper, Spencer.