OBETZ, Ohio – Columbus Crew SC’s Eastern Conference Semifinal series was wild affair.
Now, Columbus faces a different kind of challenge in their Eastern Conference Championship against Toronto FC. While scoring the most goals in the league, Toronto conceded just 37 in the regular season, and Columbus knows they can’t play the same open games they’ve played thus far.
“This game won’t be like the semis,” Crew SC captain Wil Trapp said. “They’re a team that doesn’t give up a lot of chances; they just don’t. They’re good in duels, they’re good box defenders. They’re just tactically well put together. It’s going to be a chess match, of sorts, of us trying to break them down but realizing that it’s not going to be pretty and embracing that challenge.”
Crew SC attackers were set free in the first match against New York City FC in Columbus, attacking at will and focusing on creating a lead. This time, attacker Justin Meram said the team will have to be a bit more disciplined.
“They have a back five, so it’s going to be a little tougher to break down,” he said. “So I think, the way we play, we’re going to have to be a little more patient and a little more calm when we get to the final third.”
For coach Gregg Berhalter, the message in training has been to “play our game, still try to execute” and create goalscoring chances. But even he knows that won’t be easy.
“One thing I know from playing them three times is that it’s challenging to create goalscoring opportunities,” he said. “It’s going to be key moments in the game that we have to take advantage of, because I’m sure there aren’t going to be a lot of chances.”
That said, as a team that capped their regular season with a 10-game unbeaten streak and has already knocked off two playoff teams as an underdog, Columbus aren’t intimidated by Toronto’s stout nature.
“We’re really confident,” Josh Williams said. “We feel like we’re a good enough team that it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We’re confident enough that we’re going to win at home. … We’re still going to try to score some goals.”