Tosaint Ricketts - Marco Delgado - Jonathan Osorio - celebrate a goal for Toronto FC
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Stejskal: Altidore and Giovinco bans hurt, but TFC still favorites vs. Crew

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It’s official: Jozy Altidore will be joining Sebastian Giovinco on the sidelines for the first leg of Toronto FC’s Eastern Conference Championship series at Columbus Crew SC next Tuesday.

Altidore was ejected from Leg 2 of TFC’s Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the New York Red Bulls for his role in a halftime donnybrook in the tunnel at BMO Field. Toronto appealed the red card, but to no avail. An independent review panel upheld the decision on Thursday.

Giovinco will also be suspended for Leg 1 against Crew SC, though his ban isn’t as controversial. The Italian was cautioned in both legs against New York; he’ll miss Tuesday’s game due to yellow card accumulation.

Playing half of the Eastern Conference Championship without both of their star strikers will obviously be a huge blow for Toronto. Altidore and Giovinco combined for 31 goals and 12 assists in the regular season and both are in fine form, with Altidore finding the back of the net in TFC’s final two regular season games and Giovinco scoring in the regular season finale and Leg 1 at New York.

But TFC can overcome their absences. They’re the deepest team in MLS, and they have some recent experience playing without their dynamic attacking duo. Altidore and Giovinco were both out for three successive games in September, and while Toronto posted a 1-2-0 record without them, they didn’t have any trouble finding the back of the net during that span. They dropped four goals on the Galaxy in a 4-0 win in LA on Sept. 16, scored three times in a 5-3 loss against Montreal on Sept. 20 and recorded a single tally in a 2-1 loss at New England on Sept. 23. Any team in the world would take that sort of attacking output.

Head coach Greg Vanney stayed in his usual 3-5-2 setup in those matches, though he did make some slight tweaks to his starting lineup in each game. Tosaint Ricketts filled in for Altidore in all three matches; he’ll no doubt reprise that role again in Ohio. He slid a different player into Giovinco’s role in each match, however. Jonathan Osorio played underneath Ricketts in LA, Armando Cooper filled in for the Italian against Montreal and Victor Vazquez played in the hole against New England.

My best guess is we’ll see Osorio inserted into the XI for Leg 1 on Tuesday. He’ll put in the necessary defensive work against the dangerous Crew and combines well with Vazquez, who will be given the keys to the attack with Altidore and Giovinco both out. The Spaniard should create plenty of chances against a mistake-prone Columbus backline for Ricketts, who scored twice against Crew SC earlier this season and bagged four goals in that three-game stretch in September sans Altidore and Giovinco.

Toronto will have a tougher road against Columbus without their two top strikers, but their depth and overall talent level mean they’re still the favorites to advance to another MLS Cup. 

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