Columbus Crew SC vs. Toronto FC | 2017 MLS Match Preview
Columbus Crew SC vs. Toronto FC
2017 MLS Regular Season
MAPFRE Stadium – Columbus, Ohio
Saturday, April 15 – 8 pm ET
WATCH: MLS LIVE in the US | TSN in Canada
Heading into their home clash with Toronto FC on Saturday, Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter has used utilized three different shapes and 18 different players through the first six games of the season.
"We want to do it by committee," Berhalter said following Tuesday's training session. "It’s not just one guy’s job; we rely on multiple guys to help out. ... I think it starts with our opponents adapting to us. It’s our counter-adapting. Teams are trying to become familiar with what we do and they’re trying to stop us from doing what we do best. We have to stay one step ahead of that."
Toronto, meanwhile, have largely stuck to their guns through the early going of the 2017 campaign. Although they haven't won many with that formula, they also haven't lost many. Still, a win in Columbus would go a long way towards soothing any anxiety produced by the pair of home draws preceding the short trip to Ohio.
Columbus Crew SC
For all the elements of surprise Berhalter and Crew SC have leaned on, there are still a few near certainties with regards to their lineup. Goalkeeper Zack Steffen and center back Nicolai Naess are the only two players to have played every minute of every game so far, while regular starters such as Ola Kamara and Justin Meram should have zero doubts about their places in the squad given their early-season form.
In the 'less certain' category are one of Crew SC's longest-tenured players and the team's newest acquisition. The former, playmaker Federico Higuain, participated in training on Tuesday, with Berhalter saying he'll be ready to go for Toronto's visit. The latter, speedy attacker Kekuta Manneh, is patiently awaiting his chance to debut in Columbus colors after being traded over from Vancouver on March 30. Given Higuain's likely return and the good form of Crew SC's other attackers, Manneh will likely have to settle for a substitute role if he makes the 18, but in the meantime, he's been keeping up to speed on his soccer.
Two other injury concerns in recent weeks have been right back Harrison Afful and center back Jonathan Mensah, both of whom missed Crew SC's 1-0 loss to the Chicago Fire last weekend. Afful is expected to be available in the upcoming match, though Mensah's status remains to be seen as he recovers from a hamstring strain.
- Suspended: None
- Int'l Duty: None
- Injury Report: OUT – D Gaston Sauro (knee injury); QUESTIONABLE: D Jonathan Mensah (hamstring strain), D Harrison Afful (left hand injury), GK Brad Stuver (right elbow strain); M Dilly Duka (calf contusion), D Ben Swanson (ankle sprain)
Projected Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Zack Steffen – Harrison Afful, Alex Crognale, Nicolai Naess, Jukka Raitala; Artur, Wil Trapp; Ethan Finlay, Federico Higuain, Justin Meram – Ola Kamara
Notes: Columbus have lost just one of their last seven games at home (5W-1D), averaging 2.0 goals and keeping four clean sheets over that span. … Crew SC's Wil Trapp has completed an average of 72 passes per game this season, nearly five more than any other player in the league.
- Zack Steffen joins 'Inside Crew SC' podcast after Chicago loss
- Training notebook: Crew SC's element of surprise, Meram as No. 10, and more
- Massive Report: Dull effort by midfield dooms Crew SC in Chicago
Toronto's attack showed flashes of life in last Saturday's 2-2 draw with Atlanta, but despite Sebastian Giovinco's first goal of the season and another impressive outing from offseason acquisition Victor Vazquez, they were unable to claim full points at home.
Part of the reason for TFC's second straight tie at home can be attributed to defensive lapses (though their inability finish more chances also helped), specifically from the team's other big offseason acquisition, Chris Mavinga. TFC head coach Greg Vanney pulled no punches following the game, saying of Mavinga, “I thought, on the two plays, [he was] way too slow to read the action and see what was going on.
“No matter how fast you are as a human being, if you don’t pick up on the plays early enough you’re not going to make up the ground. For me, as of tonight he wasn’t ready for the speed of the action in the transition. He didn’t pick up the reads. We’ve got to keep working with him and keep developing him and keep pushing him to recognize those moments and yeah, he’ll get another shot down the road.”
Though Vanney's comments indicate that Mavinga will likely get another shot at the starting role at some point this season, don't be surprised to see fourth-year defender Nick Hagglund back in the XI for what figures to be a tough away trip.
- Suspended: None
- Int'l Duty: None
- Injury Report: OUT – GK Clint Irwin (hamstring strain), D Drew Moor (cardiac arrhythmia), D Ashtone Morgan (stress fracture in foot)
Projected Starting XI (3-5-2): Alex Bono – Eriq Zavaleta, Drew Moor, Nick Hagglund – Steven Beitashour, Victor Vazquez, Michael Bradley, Armando Cooper, Justin Morrow – Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco
Notes: Including last season’s postseason run, Toronto has lost just one of their last 10 away games, scoring an average of 2.1 goals in those contests. They have kept two clean sheets in their last three games away from home. … Since the start of the 2015 regular season, Toronto’s Justin Morrow has scored nine goals in the regular season. No other defender has scored more than six goals over that time.
- The Video Room: TFC's attacking trio combine in style
- Victor Vazquez is changing the way TFC play
- TFC see "progress" from attacking trio in ATL draw
Columbus have the clear advantage in the all-time Trillium Cup series, though not recently – Toronto have lost just two of their last nine games against Crew SC (4W-3D) and conceded just one goal in their Ohio-based foes in three regular-season meetings in 2016.
- Overall: Columbus 12 wins (42 goals) … Toronto 6 wins (34 goals) … Ties 10
- At CLB: Columbus 8 wins (28 goals) … Toronto 3 wins (20 goals) … Ties 4
Referee: Nima Saghafi
Assistant Referees: Corey Rockwell, Kyle Atkins
Fourth Official: Hilario Grajeda