The second leg of the Trillium Cup takes place in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday night.
While trophies are nice, however meaningless some may be, this game is about more than a contrived rivalry between the Crew and Toronto FC.
Columbus, led by Kei Kamara, Ethan Finlay and Federico Higuain, are a legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference. Gregg Berhalter has emerged as one of the top coaches in the league. The Crew is coming off a convincing two game sweep against the Chicago Fire. They’ve allowed one goal, off a deflected free kick, in their last two games.
TFC trails Columbus by three points with three games in hand. A win for the Reds at MAPFRE Stadium place Greg Vanney’s side alongside D.C. United, Columbus and the New York Red Bulls in the upper echelon of the Conference.
With a large amount of home games left to finish out the season a draw on the road wouldn’t hurt either, but Toronto has the opportunity to make a statement of intent on Saturday.
Here are three keys to Saturday’s match.
Kei Kamara may not be the most inspirational player on the ball, but he gets the job done.
The Sierra Leonean footballer leads MLS with 14 goals and was an easy selection for All-Star Game head coach Pablo Mastroeni.
Kamara’s tallies usually come within the opponent’s box. “He’s such a big guy that’s dominant in the air,” said TFC defender Justin Morrow. “We need to make sure we don’t lose him in space.”
In the early portion of the season losing opposing attackers in space was a big problem for the Reds, especially at the far post. That’s how Columbus scored both goals in their win in March.
In game that saw the spotlight fall on Sebastian Giovinco and Marky Delgado last weekend against Philadelphia, Ashtone Morgan was an unsung hero.
He’s been a vital cog in the TFC backline this season, but Morgan’s status is in doubt for Saturday’s match.
Morgan left back left Wednesday’s friendly against Sunderland with an Adductor strain and he is listed as questionable.
“He had a little scan [on Thursday] just to see where he’s at,” said Vanney. “He’s feeling much better today than he was feeling [on Wednesday night]. We’ll assess over the next 12 to 24 hours to see how he’s doing.”
If Morgan can’t go Vanney does have options including Jackson at right back and Morrow on the left, or inserting Danny Lovitz in Morgan’s place.
Stacking Up In The East
Make no bones about it: this is a big test for the Reds.
A win sees TFC inch closer to the top of the Eastern Conference with several home games remaining. Columbus and D.C. United have established themselves as legitimate contenders. The Reds found a way to win at RFK Stadium in June. Finding a way to repeat that accomplishment in Ohio would be a major confidence boost for the squad.
“This is a big test,” said Jonathan Osorio. “Who knows, this might be a matchup you see in the playoffs and I think we should take that into consideration not only as a league game, but something bigger than that.”
“They’re one of the top teams in the league in terms of their ability to play and they’re very good at home,” added Vanney.
It will be must watch television on Saturday night on Sportsnet 360 at 7:30 PM ET. Don’t miss it.