July 17th, 2024

Slumping Toronto FC in tough against a Columbus Crew side operating in high gear

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on July 5, 2024.

Toronto FC head coach John Herdman looks on during the MLS soccer match against the Philadelphia Union, in Chester, Pa., Wednesday, May 29, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Szagola

Mired in an eight-game winless streak that includes five straight losses, struggling Toronto FC finds itself in tough again Saturday when it visits the defending MLS champion Columbus Crew.

The two teams have been heading in different directions.

After picking up 10 of a possible 15 points from its first five games of the campaign (3-1-1), Toronto has collected just 14 of a possible 51 in the 17 games since (4-11-2). TFC (7-12-3) arrives at Lower.com Field in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, 12 points behind third-place Columbus which has three games in hand.

Toronto has been outscored 13-4 in consecutive losses to Orlando, Atlanta, New York Red Bulls, Nashville and Chicago. Its last league win was May 18, a 5-2 decision over visiting CF Montreal.

Columbus (10-3-6) has won three straight, having outscored Nashville, New England and Sporting Kansas City by a combined 11-1. Wilfried Nancy’s team has lost just once in its last eight league outings (7-1-0).

Columbus leads the league on defence, conceding just 0.95 goals a game (compared to No. 22 Toronto at 1.77). The Crew rank fifth on offence (averaging 1.89 goals a game) while Toronto is tied for 22nd (1.36).

Five Columbus players – defenders Rudy Camacho and Steven Moreira, midfielder Darlington Nagbe and forwards Cucho Hernández and Diego Rossi – have been named to the all-star game which Columbus is hosting July 24 with Nancy in charge of the MLS side.

Federico Bernardeschi is Toronto’s lone all-star representative. The Italian winger/wingback has recorded 14 goal contributions (eight goals, six assists) in the last 10 MLS matches he has featured in since April 27.

Understandably John Herdman sees Columbus as a template worth following.

“They have a consistent lineup that turns out every week,” said the Toronto coach. “They’ve done a great job at being able to, over time, just build the quality and depth in every position. You can see they’re able to sustain the tempo of MLS in every position and when one man’s down, the next one comes in with the same level of quality.

“It’s what I think Toronto FC is aspiring to in terms of our club-wide approach and being able to build the sort of depth that it’s going to take to really compete in that top-four space (in the Eastern Conference, which comes with home field in the opening round of the playoffs). When we’ve been consistent with our lineups, we’ve able to compete there.”

But that hasn’t happened very often this season.

Toronto’s current injury list includes wingback Tyrese Spicer and midfielders Alonso Coello, Brandon Servania and Derrick Etienne Jr. Captain/midfielder Jonathan Osorio and fullback/wingback Richie Laryea remain with Canada at Copa America while midfielder Deybi Flores is suspended Saturday for yellow card accumulation.

Flores, a Honduran international with real bite to his game, will be missed.

“Deybi brings that explosiveness and an aggressiveness,” said Herdman, who may look to Kosi Thompson to fill in.

On the plus side, centre back Kevin Long returns from suspension. Defender Kobe Franklin, meanwhile, is one game away from 50 appearances across all competitions for Toronto.

Herdman sees a high threat level in a potent Columbus attack that features Hernandez, Rossi and Christian Ramírez.

“The way that they operate with their wingbacks (including Canadian Mo Farsi), the intensity of their wingbacks, it’s a formidable front five,” he said. “You’ve got to be really on your game. It’s a collective – 11 players have to commit to defending against this team.”

Columbus is missing forward Jacen Russell-Rowe, who is also away with Canada.

The Crew are unbeaten in their last five meetings (4-0-1) with Toronto and lead the overall regular-season series 18-11-13.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on X platform, formerly known as Twitter.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2024.

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