Crew-Toronto FC Preview
Needing a victory and a substantial amount of help to host a first-round playoff match, Toronto FC looks to do its part Sunday when it hosts already-eliminated Columbus in its season finale.
The Reds (12-10-11) can finish anywhere from fourth to seventh depending on their result and those around the league. The most optimistic scenario is they beat the Crew (10-15-8) while both D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls lose, allowing them to jump over both teams into fourth.
Toronto can also finish ahead of D.C. with a victory and a draw by the Black-and-Red on the second MLS Cup tiebreaker, which is goals difference, since both teams enter the final match day at plus-4.
"Our approach is this is our final sort of preparation game for the playoffs," TFC coach Greg Vanney said Friday. "Playing in this new one-off format, we're going to focus on ourselves. For us, it's a trial run and get our minds shifted on a one-off game and how we want to approach that."
Toronto FC is unbeaten in its last nine league matches (3-0-6) after a 2-2 stalemate at Chicago last Sunday. Defender Omar Gonzalez secured the point when he headed home Alejandro Pozuelo's corner kick in the 80th minute. Jozy Altidore scored the other goal for the Reds, his first in four matches since returning from an injury.
"It felt good - a long time coming," Altidore told TFC's official website after moving into a tie with Pozuelo for the team lead with 11 goals. "It felt nice, but the biggest thing is the result and we stayed unbeaten. That's the best.
"We want to get those three points and we put in the work. It's not falling for us, but we're unbeaten. The mentality has been good; going into the playoffs you want this momentum, so we still have it and we feel good about it."
Columbus has played far better down the stretch than it did earlier in the season and could be prime spoilers in this contest. The Crew have just one loss in their last 12 matches (5-1-6) and are unbeaten in five (3-0-2) after blanking Philadelphia 2-0 at home last Sunday.
Pedro Santos set up Youness Mokhtar's go-ahead goal in the 69th minute before adding a second tally four minutes later for the Crew, who also recorded their first league shutout in 27 matches since a 1-0 victory over New England on April 6.
Santos has enjoyed a breakout season with 11 goals - second only to Gyasi Zardes (13) - and leads the Crew with six assists.
"You've seen it over the last 12 games. The results are better, we're picking up points and not losing," Crew coach Caleb Porter said. "We want to play to win and understanding what that means and what you have to do. Our progression is good, we're trending up, our identity is clear.
"We want to keep building off the last game. Toronto is a good team, it's on the road. We've been good on the road, though, we've had some signature wins on the road. Our mindset is the same."
Zardes and Wil Trapp were both tabbed by former Crew coach Gregg Berhalter to the U.S. national team for next week's CONCACAF Nations League matches versus Cuba and Canada.
The teams have played to draws in the last two meetings, including a 2-2 deadlock in Columbus in August when Altidore netted an equalizer in the 90th minute. The Crew improved to 5-5-6 all-time in Toronto after a 2-0 victory there last year.
Updated October 4, 2019