So here we are; first place in MLS and the favourites out of the Eastern Conference to win it all come December. No pressure.
There are many, many ways in which this could all fall apart, as we got a brief taste of when Drew Moor was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat out of the blue, but for now Toronto FC are as strong as they have ever been. You may think Greg Vanney’s declaration that his squad is in the deepest in the history of MLS is hyperbole, but this group is certainly more accomplished and well-rounded than any other BMO Field has ever seen.
Saturday’s win over the Seattle Sounders provided the most convincing evidence of that witnessed so far this season, but tonight’s trip to the Columbus Crew may present an even tougher test. The Sounders are defending MLS Cup champions but there is clearly something not quite clicking for them this season, particularly in front of goal. Columbus, on the other hand, are 4-1-1 at home this year and have not failed to score twice in a game at Mapfre Stadium since opening day.
New York City are the only team to win in Ohio this year and did so not by shutting the Crew down, like Toronto did in Seattle, but outscoring them (3-2). It is difficult to imagine, unless a player like Ola Kamara or Federico Higuain is handed a rest due to the short turnaround from the weekend, that the Reds will be able to win this game without scoring at least twice.
Once again, no one really knows what Toronto’s lineup will look like and that tactical variation is becoming another weapon in the Reds’ armoury. Seattle probably did not expect to have to plan for Jay Chapman in an advanced midfield role on Saturday and the Canadian took full advantage, playing an influential part in the visitors’ win.
The main question marks hang over Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Nick Hagglund, who were pushed through the Seattle game while others rested. With his natural replacement, Benoit Cheyrou, also featuring at CenturyLink Field the captain will likely have to make it through this one, too, but Altidore could be swapped out for Tosaint Ricketts or one of Toronto’s younger target men, Ben Spencer and Jordan Hamilton.
With Altidore having stepped up to the plate in a big way on Saturday, then, tonight Toronto will look to Sebastian Giovinco to put them on his back in the opposition half. The Italian did that twice in the recent three-game home stand, scoring four goals across that stretch, but is yet to score or even turn in a particularly impactful performance away from BMO Field. Tonight would be a fine time to change that.
TV channel & live stream
TV: TSN 4 & 5 (Canada), BCSN 2, MyTV Columbus, Spectrum Sports (USA)
Stream: TSN Go (Canada), MLS Live (out of market)
Radio: TSN 1050 (Toronto), CD 102.5, La Mega 103.1 (Columbus)
Drew Moor is the only player definitely out for Toronto, though Ashtone Morgan is also unlikely to feature. Expect Vanney to enforce more squad rotation as Toronto come through the back end of five games in just over two weeks.
Columbus have lost Gaston Sauro and Ben Swanson for the season but Artur is closing in on a return after a wrist fracture. Brad Stuver is also rated as questionable but would not be likely to start anyway, while coach Gregg Berhalter will be missing from the technical area after being sent off against the New England Revolution. With Columbus also playing on short rest, it is possible he leaves out a key player or two such as Federico Higuain.
Columbus: Steffen; Williams, Crognale, Mensah, Francis; Trapp, Abu; Finlay, Higuain, Meram; Kamara.
Toronto: Bono; Zavaleta, Hagglund, Mavinga; Beitashour, Osorio, Bradley, Morrow; Chapman, Altidore, Vazquez.