OBETZ, Ohio—Columbus Crew SC finally know which Toronto FC striker they’ll be facing in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship series on Tuesday (8pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes, WatchESPN; TSN, TVAS). Now they just have to figure out how to stop him.
The Independent Panel denied Toronto’s appeal of Jozy Altidore’s red card from Leg 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal, meaning he’ll be suspended for Tuesday’s match at MAPFRE Stadium. TFC star attacker Sebastian Giovinco is also suspended for the match after picking up two yellow cards over two games against the Red Bulls.
Backup striker Tosaint Ricketts will likely slot into Altidore’s spot in the starting lineup. Ricketts hasn’t played much in 2017, but he showed very well in three games against Columbus. After an eight-minute cameo in TFC’s 2-1 loss at MAPFRE on April 15, Ricketts came off the bench to score both of Toronto’s goals in their 2-1 win at Columbus on May 10. He started TFC’s 5-0 win against Crew SC at BMO Field a little over two weeks later, using his speed to race past Jonathan Mensah and earn an early penalty to setup Toronto’s first goal.
PK FOUL: Jonathan Mensah pulls down Tosaint Ricketts
Columbus defender Josh Williams knows Ricketts well, having played with him while at TFC in 2016 and gone against him with Columbus this year. The pair first squared off collegiately in Horizon League action, when Ricketts would do backflips “all over the field” after scoring for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay against Williams and Cleveland State.
“He’s a different type of beast,” Williams said. “He’s got blistering pace; he’s someone you’ve got to keep in front of you – as soon as he’s behind you, you’re in trouble. I think since my time with him even last year he’s become better in front of goal, but he’s always had a knack for it.”
Crew SC initially installed a game plan to deal with Ricketts, then worked on an alternate plan for Altidore while waiting for a ruling from the independent review panel. They’ve been focused on Ricketts since Wednesday's ruling, and they know defending the speedy Canadian will be a different sort of challenge than playing against Altidore.
“I think Ricketts is certainly more vertically-based [than Altidore],” said Columbus captain Wil Trapp. “He wants to run behind, he wants crosses in the box. Jozy can do that, but he can also get the ball into his feet and combine a little bit better than Ricketts can. That still presents a big problem in the game. We played them at their place, he ran behind Jonathan early and he has pace, as well. He’s a handful and he has confidence and he’s done well for them this year, so it’s by no means an easy game to play against him, either.”
Like Williams and Trapp, Columbus manager Gregg Berhalter noted Ricketts’ pace. He also mentioned Ricketts' leaping ability, used to great effect when he scored a headed goal against Crew SC back in May.
GOAL: Tosaint Ricketts heads in the equalizer
“In Toronto, he hit us on transition; the guy has really, really good pace, blistering pace,” Berhalter said. “And then, in Columbus, he scores off two crosses. And the thing about Tosaint is that he can jump really high, so any type of cross this kid can jump and get on the ball.
“For us, it’s simple: it’s about defending transition and defending in the penalty box and getting a body on him and not letting him jump. He jumps off two feet primarily and he can elevate, so it’s getting contact on him beforehand that you can disrupt some of his jumping.”