Playoffs - 2017 - Eastern Conference Championship generic image

Eastern Conference Championship Quote Sheet – Leg 1

NEW YORK (Monday, November 20, 2017) – The 2017 MLS Eastern Conference Final is on the horizon in a battle between the league’s past two runners-up: 2016 MLS Cup finalists Toronto FC and 2015 MLS Cup finalists Columbus Crew SC. Only one will have the opportunity to return to the big dance. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Nov. 21, live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes, TSN 1/3/4/5, TVA Sports.
MLS Eastern Conference Final Soundbytes:
MLS caught up with both teams heading into Tuesday’s first leg:
Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono:
On depth to overcome first-leg absences of Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore:
AB: “Obviously those are two big losses for us, but if you look at what our depth has done all season, the guys who have come in and really made things happen and really rose to the occasion, we’re going to be just fine. From our perspective, we know that our depth is going to come through and step up to the challenge. We have some good depth up top, some good young players that can fill in, and we also have some very solid midfielders that in my opinion would start on many other teams that have the ability to come in and really change the game for us.”
Running ‘through a brick wall’ for Toronto’s defense:
AB: “Reliable is really the word to describe our defense. I’m so fortunate and blessed that I was able to learn and have most of my experiences with the guys that are back there now. We have a fantastic group of defenders. We have a solid group of defenders. Our goal at the beginning of the season was to be tough to break down, and I think that we’ve shown that we’re very tough to break down no matter what the personnel is, no matter what the formation is. We have guys that are hard-nosed willing to put their body on the line, those are the guys that make my job a lot easier, specifically Drew [Moor], Chris Mavinga and Eric Zavaleta who have been the mainstays you might say, the way they put their bodies on the line, the way that they risk everything to keep the ball out of the net. It makes me want to run through a brick wall for those guys. The trust that I have on them is immense, and the trust that they have in me is immense as well, and I think that relationship has gone a long way for us this year. It’s something we’re going to rely on, especially when we’re playing in these tough away games on the road and trying to get a result there.”
‘Bent, but didn’t break’: Benefits from the grueling Eastern Conference Semifinal vs. the Red Bulls:
AB: “The way I like to look at it is we bent a little bit but we didn’t break. We were up against it for many of those 180 minutes over the two games. I thought defensively we were so solid, and [this series against Columbus] could be a lot of the same. Obviously you hope to have more control, but it’s definitely possible we have a similar series that we had last time, and the fact that we’ve been through that works nicely for anything that Columbus can throw at us. We played against guys who played scrappy and tried to get in our faces and tried to knock us off our game, and we’ve also played against teams that have played a lot of good football and like to keep possession of the ball. We’re more than prepared for anything that Columbus has to throw at us. It’s all about focusing on ourselves and playing our game.”
Toronto FC defender Drew Moor:
On Ricketts, others stepping up when Giovinco and Altidore were out for May 26 win vs. Crew SC:
DM: “What worked well in that game, Tosaint Ricketts and Ben Spencer both played well. They were a good balance for each other. Ben Spencer held the ball up really well, was big, strong, and obviously Tosaint is so athletic and so fast, and his pace just scares other teams and it’s a big advantage for us. Obviously we’ll miss [Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore]. … I think with Tosaint being in, we can use his pace, we can use his speed, and I think Victor [Vazquez] had a very good game – there are not too many games he doesn’t play well. We moved them around and similarly got in behind them. But that was a while ago. The games [Crew SC] have played recently, they’re organized and a very confident team right now. It’s important that when we do have the opportunities to break them down and get in behind them that we do, but we still organize defensively and don’t give up too much.”
Containing Crew SC’s Higuain key to halt momentum of ‘confident group’:
DM: “They’re a confident group and they’ve got the emotional side in terms of what’s going on with the organization around that. I still think the most dangerous part of Columbus is [Federico] Higuain, just keeping track of him. When we have the ball, when we’re in possession, it’s important that we always know where Higuain is because as soon as the ball turns over and they get the ball, they’re looking to find him. Alot of the play goes through him. [Ola] Kamara obviously has 17 goals this year so we do have to keep an eye on him and keep close to him anytime he’s in and around the box. Justin Meram is having a good season as well, but I still think the key to them is Higuain. If we can limit his touches, especially in dangerous spots and always have somebody around him anytime he’s on the ball, that takes a big chunk of what they try to do away from them.”
Sustaining the ‘peaks and valleys’ during MLS Cup Playoffs:
DM: “Nobody ever goes through the playoffs without some bumps, without some scares or whatever you want to call it. It’s about digging deep and understanding that not everything is going to go your way. You can’t let the peaks get too high or the valleys get too low. You have to stay even-keeled. You have to take it one play at a time. Over the course of 180 minutes, if we have the right mentality and we compete as hard or better than the other team, our play will see us through. The playoffs are about putting it all together and digging deep, and so far we’ve done that.”
Columbus Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter:
On the battle between the past two MLS Cup runners-up:
GB: “It’s going to be a good series. You have two teams that represented the East in the last two MLS Cups, so we’re going to be looking to get back there – both of the teams – and I think that’s going to add to the excitement. Toronto’s had an excellent season. To win the Supporters’ Shield and to have the most points in league history is a great achievement. They’ve been consistent all-year long and getting the results from a number of different players. I think with us, it’s been a little bit different: We’re playing the youngest team in the league, we had some ups and downs early on, but we were able to keep growing. I think that’s the important thing about our team. We’ve kept getting better all year, and that’s what you want to do in a playoff type of structure, so we’re ready.”
On Crew SC’s 5-0 loss to Toronto the last time around:
GB: “You look at that game, we tried to do something different. It was a different lineup, a different shape, and it didn’t work. That’s the easiest way to say it. It didn’t work and we learned from that game. There were some interesting moments in that game to learn from, but in part you have use some regular season games to test yourself and test the group and that’s what I love the most about our group this year is they haven’t been afraid to try things and put themselves out there, and that was a good example of that.”
On ‘process-oriented’ approach during Columbus’ momentum from regular season to playoffs:
GB: “As the season was winding down, we had a clear focus. The way we do things is more process-oriented. We do focus on the next match and putting a lot of energy into the upcoming match, and that’s what we’ve been doing all-year round. This time of the year is nothing different. We’ve been playing in tough environments for the last two months. We’ve been playing in big games the last two months, so we’ll be ready for this type of game.”
Columbus Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen:
On Crew SC’s momentum, focus heading into the first leg:
ZS: “This roll that we have been on has been awesome. The guys are looking forward to getting out there Tuesday, and we’re excited because Toronto’s a good team. We’re at a really good place. As a group, we’re very close, and this run has gotten us much closer. The guys are pushing each other every day in training, and we’re focused.”
On playing alongside Crew SC captain and former U.S. U-20 teammate Wil Trapp:
ZS: “We were together with the U-20s at the end stage of World Cup Qualifying when I first met Wil. He’s a great guy, and one of the first guys I hit up when I came to Columbus. He’s a standup leader, great captain and player, and a great friend. Wil’s a machine and he’s what becoming a professional is about. It’s been a pleasure playing alongside him with the national team and then coming here and having a good year. It’s been fun.”
On his continued improvement through the playoffs:
ZS: “As a goalkeeper, you want to get the high-level games and experiences, and I’ve been able to get that throughout the season. Each game, I just feel more and more comfortable. I think I have more calmness out there. It’s been a good season, but really I’m just focused on tomorrow’s training, taking things day by day and trying to make things as routine as possible.”