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Columbus Crew vs. Toronto FC: What to watch out for

Three things to watch in the Reds’ second Trillium Cup fixture in a month.

MLS: Toronto FC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto FC head down to Ohio on Wednesday for a midweek Trillium Cup date with the Columbus Crew, riding a streak of four consecutive wins. If seeing this fixture on the calendar gave you a little deja vu, you’re not alone — TFC played the Crew at Mapfre Stadium not even a month ago.

The Reds surrendered an early lead in the last meeting between these sides, falling 2-1 and picking up their first loss of the season. This time, they’ll be hoping to make up for those dropped points in a tough away game.

Columbus are fourth in the congested Eastern Conference with 16 points, and boast a 4–1–1 record at home this year. They’ve succeeded on the back of some top-class work by Justin Meram, who has four goals and three assists, and Ola Kamara, who boasts another six goals.

This week, there’s a trio of Cs to watch out for as TFC look to defend the Trillium Cup.

1. Confidence

It’d be hard to find a more confident team in MLS right now than Toronto FC. They’re riding a four-game winning streak, but more than that, they’ve just beaten the MLS Cup champions on the road without five key players (not to mention the emotional catharsis a win in Seattle brought).

On top of all that, here’s another sight for sore eyes if you’re a TFC fan:

God knows how long that’ll last, but even this early in the season it’s a nice thing to see. The Reds really seem to be coming into their own at the moment, looking more and more like a top-notch team with every passing game.

There’s obviously a long way to go, and no matter what, this Wednesday’s game will be a tough ask. TFC have played a lot of games recently, so yet another away fixture is probably not what they need right now. That said, they’ll still be looking for a win in Columbus.

2. Counter-attack

TFC managed to hold onto their lead in Seattle by bunkering down and keeping the Sounders to the outside, forcing them to repeatedly cross the ball only for Nick Hagglund to repel everything sent into the box. Toronto had just 36% possession, but astonishingly three more shots on target than Seattle.

The Reds did an excellent job of keeping the Sounders from passing into high-danger areas. Since they’re again unlikely to field a full-strength starting XI, Greg Vanney’s game plan from Saturday will probably carry over to this fixture. Columbus are another team who like to play with possession, which TFC will allow them to do.

It may be boring when a road team sits back and looks for counter-attacking opportunities, but that’s what TFC have to do on Wednesday. Victor Vazquez is likely to be back, meaning he can facilitate moving the ball out toward wingers like Justin Morrow or up ahead to Sebastian Giovinco.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Toronto FC Gerry Angus-USA TODAY Sports

TFC will have to make good use of their chances, because they may not get many, so hopefully Giovinco is sharp. Pace is crucial here, so this is where TFC will benefit from resting some starters on the weekend.

3. Consistency in change

For the first three wins of TFC’s current streak, Vanney fielded the exact same starting XI. We saw a wildly different squad in Seattle, though, and we’ll probably see some more changes in Columbus.

The game in Seattle demonstrated how important depth is in MLS. The side TFC put out at CenturyLink Field would probably be a fair team in this league in its own right. Credit is due to Vanney, as well, for ensuring a level of coherence between pretty much everyone at the club. It seems the bench players can fit into the starting lineup easily, especially those (like Jay Chapman) who have clearly been taking pointers from their more experienced teammates (like Vazquez).

On Wednesday, we’ll have another chance to see how the Reds adapt to change. They’ll be tasked with executing the same system with different personnel. It’s important for a team’s identity and play style to stretch to all its players.