Toronto FC headed into the first fixture of the 2017 Trillium Cup boasting an unbeaten run to start the season. Much has been made from the club on the start of their season, however, most supporters have expressed some frustration at the lack of clinical finishing that would have secured more points up to this juncture. Add in that the team's only win came after going a man up, as well as two draws at home, three points in Columbus would have gone a long way in lifting morale of the fan base.
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The biggest news heading into this weekend was the omission of centre back Drew Moor. The team discovered an irregular heartbeat and has been seen with several players over the last year, precautionary steps have been taken before he can return to the pitch. The next question would be if Nick Hagglund and Eric Zavaleta can hold down the defence in Moor's absence?
The Opening 45
It must be said that one thing Greg Vanney has gotten right this season is ensuring his side are prepared at the opening whistle to play with intensity. TFC have been hitting the pitch ready and creating chances early to make their mark from the start.
This match was no different as Toronto, despite falling behind in possession, did look to be very much in the game and taking it to Columbus early on. This was demonstrated in the 21st minute where, after earning a corner, Victor Vasquez swung in a strong ball that Jozy Altidore climbed above everyone to meet with force and direct into the left side of goal.
At this stage of the half, TFC very much looked to be the better side and could have added to their lead only a few minutes later as Vasquez once again connected with Altidore to spring him in on goal, but Jozy could not find the far post and Crew keeper Zach Steffan did well to block the shot.
The Reds would rue that missed chance as at the 37th minute confusion along the wing between Armando Cooper and Justin Morrow allowed Cooper's man, Niko Hansen, to pass Cooper and latch on to a perfect Federico Higuain pass. Hansen drew the attention of pretty much every player - Hagglund, Zavaleta, Bono and Michael Bradley, which let Ola Kamara get in back door to slot the ball into an empty net.
Shortly after, Columbus took the lead off a corner kick. The Reds piled bodies at the top of the six yard box, but with only Michael Bradley guarding the post, three Crew players slipped into the area. Justin Meram was in the right place at the right time to get his foot on the initial header and give the Crew a 2-1 advantage into the second half.
The Second Half
The following forty-five lacked the same intensity and creativity as the opening half, but much credit must be given to Columbus who played a disciplined game where the didn't just sit back in numbers, but held their shape and still looked to create on the counter.
Columbus still tried to create with first the 51st minute seeing Justin Morrow perfectly time a tackle in the 18 to stop a chance, the another attempt get Kamara on the board as in the 68th minute Higuain put in a perfect low cross that narrowly missed him running onto it.
TFC had one last chance to level the score in the 75th with Steven Beitashour carrying the ball on the right side with Giovinco open through the middle, but Beitashour held the ball too long and his pass ended up being behind Giovinco and easily picked up by the Crew's defence.
Toronto tried to change it up with Jonathan Osorio, Tosaint Ricketts and Benoit Cheyrou all coming on, but it was too little too late as Columbus locked the game down and were able to leave with all three points and earn a lead in the Trillium Cup.
The Final Word
It was another tough result to swallow for TFC supporters as the team looked better value early on, and then were frustrating in the end getting good chances that could have secured a result.
Greg Vanney will need to consider moving forward a bit more strategy with either his formation or line up, as tonight it could be argued he got it wrong in a few areas. Without Drew Moor, the 3-5-2 formation might be too much to ask for Nick Hagglund to hold down. Added, after coming of a stellar outing against Atlanta, Armando Cooper was very poor in the midfield. Vanney should take note of his inconsistency and perhaps consider Osorio in matches against rivals with a roster built on Americans and Europeans, or even revert to a 4-2-3-1 with Cheyrou as the holding midfielder.
All of that aside, Jozy Altidore noted accurately in his post match interview that the team needs to be more sharp. I would agree 100% - Toronto FC have not looked sharp in their finishing, and they have had their chances going back to week one, and sharp in defence, where lost focus could be attributed to most goals so far this season.
It has been all well and good that the Reds have started games with intensity and creativity, but they've not carried it through to put in a comprehensive ninety minutes, perhaps save for the Whitecaps match, which they went up a man. This will need to change immediately as Chicago, Houston and Orlando are all threats in the next week and could put TFC in a much deeper hole than they'd like to be in at this stage of the season.
Man of the Match
It might be a bit of a Canadian bias, as both Victor Vasquez and Jozy Altidore had good outings, however, Edwards put in a solid shift with Drew Moor out and Justin Morrow being slotted in the the left CB role. Edwards did everything you want to see from a fearless youth, from taking on defenders, not giving up on crosses when they fail the first time, to trying a few tricks here and there. Edwards has looked comfortable as the new man in the starting eleven and he will be one to continue to watch in the coming weeks if Moor stays out of the line-up.