Columbus Crew SC are flying high at the moment, leading the Supporters' Shield standings while playing a dominant brand of soccer on both sides of the ball.
But when it comes to Sunday's matchup with fellow Eastern Conference powerhouse Toronto FC (7:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info), Porter said it's Greg Vanney's side that should be favored coming into the game. To hear Porter tell it, that's not any sort of knock on his side, but rather just an acknowledgement of recent history, which has seen TFC win a Supporters' Shield and make three of the last four MLS Cups, winning one of them.
"They’re a superclub, and they’re definitely favored in the game," Porter told reporters on a Friday conference call. "Obviously we’re top of the table, but most people are going to favor them, for good reason, based in the last three or four years. We’ve not done anything yet, and they’ve proven to be one of the top clubs in MLS. They’ve got quality players, they’ve got a good coach, and that’s why they’ve been in and around the MLS Cup in the last three or four years. So it’s our toughest test. Again, they’re the favorites for sure in the match."
Porter added that he sees the matchup as a great "measuring stick" type of game to see where his team stacks up. The numbers so far this season for Columbus are certainly impressive: At 9-1-3 they're currently at a blistering pace of 2.31 points per game and, perhaps most impressively, have allowed a league-low five goals in their 13 league matches -- far and away the best total in MLS.
Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney was also complimentary of his opponent, calling Crew one of the leaders in MLS this year.
Playing Toronto FC is its own type of challenge for the Crew, and one that Porter said he's relishing to see if his team can continue its dominance.
"Yeah, we have to know where we’re at," Porter said. "We have to be ready to beat teams that we know are going to be in and around the MLS Cup, and this is one of these club and one of these games where you just know they’re going to be in and around it like they’ve shown to be at the end of the year. I think we’ve risen to the occasion in some very tough games and we just beat a playoff team, who’s a good team and who’s not been easy for every team to figure out in Minnesota. We beat Philadelphia, who’s as hot as any team in the league. So, my team seems to be up for it and that’s what you want — to be able to rise to the level, and when the level’s higher you want to see your group be able to go to that next level. I’m looking forward to game, I know the guys are, and it’ll tell us a lot with where we’re at."
The reality is, Porter said, that if Columbus wants to achieve its lofty ambitions beyond a great regular season, that this is exactly the type of team they'll have to beat. If they can prove they're up for the challenge, it can only be a positive for the team's mentality come playoff time.
"We need these games going into playoffs, and if we want to be the best we have to beat the best, and I would say Toronto is definitely without question on of the best teams in the league, and that’s why they’ve been the MLS Cup champions and three finals in the last four years," he said. "In saying that, my group will definitely be up for it. We're not going to shy away from the game."