The two legs against the Red Bulls devolved into a contest of wills, to see who could outlast, outcompete. TFC move on in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs; already preparations have begun for the Eastern Conference Championship against Columbus Crew SC.
Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney expects “a different match-up.”
“They'll play soccer. Try to break you down, play with the ball; very tactical in their approach,” explained Vanney on Monday. “I have a great deal of respect for what Gregg Berhalter does with his team: try to beat you with the way they play with the ball, organize their group defensively.”
“It's an interesting match-up,” continued Vanney. “They're a good team; we played them three times [this] year, [the last two] within a three-week period. There were a lot of twists and turns tactically over the course of that series. We'll have a few things that we need to prepare for.”
All three Trillium Cup matches between the sides were played early in the season, with Columbus taking the first meeting 2-1 on April 15 at MAPFRE Stadium. Toronto won the second encounter on May 10 by the same scoreline on the road to level the series before securing the season series with a 5-0 rout back home on May 28.
“Any time you play teams, you need to take something away. We'll look at that,” said Vanney. “They've gone through a few variations since then.”
Said Nick Hagglund: “They're a different team from what they were earlier this season. We've watched them; we know what they're about: their idealistic way of playing soccer. We have a good idea of what they're going to do against us.”
Of note, though, is the fact that the 5-0 result at BMO Field in May featured neither Jozy Altidore nor Sebastian Giovinco, both of whom are set to miss out on the opening leg through suspension, pending the outcome of TFC's appeal of Altidore's halftime red card against the Red Bulls.
Altidore did feature in Toronto's 2-1 win in Columbus, but it was super-sub Tosaint Ricketts, the man expected to deputize up top, who scored the two late goals, each assisted by the combination of Victor Vazquez and Raheem Edwards.
“We should be very confident that we've been able to get good results not having the two strikers,” said Vanney. “Our group understands we're a very capable side. Tos [Ricketts] should be chomping at the bit right now for chance to go make a big difference. He'll be ready.”
With 16 days between matches, TFC will use the time wisely.
“It gives us an opportunity to look at variations; game plan to go to Columbus,” said Vanney. “Against popular belief I thought we played a pretty good series against New York. We need to get something out of [the first leg]. We did a good job of that in New York.”
This series, one of the closer, geographically speaking, for TFC, will be extra special for at least one of the Ohio natives in the lineup.
“I grew up playing in that stadium, won two state championships in that stadium. I know what it is like to play there this time of year: it's exciting,” said Cleveland native Morrow. “Apart from the Trillium Cup matches I haven't had big matches with Columbus. The energy around their club will be big. They have a lot of stuff going on, they'll rally around that. I expect a great series with great fans.”