What appeared to be three points and the Supporters’ Shield lead for Columbus Crew SC turned out to be anything but when all was set and done.
The Black and Gold blew a one-goal lead with ten minutes left in regulation, falling to Toronto FC 2-1. A late brace by Tosaint Ricketts cancelled out Federico Higuain’s first half penalty kick. Columbus is now 5-5-1 on the year.
Tosaint Ricketts Brace, Late Defensive Meltdown Dooms Columbus Crew SC
Intrigue abounded when the Crew SC formation came out. The club opted for a 3-5-2 shape, the second such time this year they went with three at the back. Against D.C. United on March 18th (a 2-0 victory), Columbus trotted out a 3-6-1.
Jonathan Mensah, Josh Williams and rookie Alex Crognale got the start in central defense. The five-man midfield included Mohammed Abu and Wil Trapp as holding midfielders, Higuain as the playmaker and Waylon Francis and Ethan Finlay slotted out as wing backs on the left and right hand sides respectively. Justin Meram joined Ola Kamara up top.
Assistant Josh Wolff assumed the role of manager this game with Gregg Berhalter suspended.
First Half Heroics for Higuain and Steffen
The first 20 or so minutes of the match saw Crew SC trying to break a compact TFC side. Toronto coach Greg Vanney lined his side up in a 5-4-1 which seemed content to sit deep and hit on counterattacks. Over the first 25 minutes, Columbus enjoyed 54 percent possession and outshot Toronto 4-1.
The breakthrough for the Black and Gold came in the 28th minute. After TFC defender Eriq Zavaleta took down Ola Kamara in the box, referee Sorin Stoica had no choice but to point the the spot. Higuain stepped up to the spot and deftly tapped it in past goalkeeper Alex Bono “panenka” style to give the home side a 1-0 lead.
Ten minutes later, TFC had a chance to equalize via a penalty of their own. With Jozy Altidore making a run into the box unabated, Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen tripped him up. But Steffen was up to the task at redeeming himself for the mistake. He made the right move in jumping towards his right to deny Altidore his second straight penalty kick goal.
Alex Bono’s Impressive Performance in Net for the Visitors
Despite giving up the first half goal, Bono performed admirably. He made two huge saves early in the second half. The first involved recovering effectively to deny Wil Trapp attempting to catch him off his line. On the ensuing corner kick, he parried away a header from Crognale that appeared on its way to the lower left side of goal.
Overall, Bono made five saves throughout the entirety of the game. That goalkeeping quality kept TFC hanging around. And it enabled them to continue searching for the equalizer. They eventually found it in the 81st minute.
Another Second Half Defensive Collapse for Crew SC
It came off the head of Ricketts, a first half sub after Vanney made a tactical change in response to the Crew SC goal. Victor Vazquez played a diagonal ball out wide to Raheem Edwards, himself coming into the game three minutes before the goal. His cross to Ricketts split the centerbacks and the 29-year-old Canadian made no mistake with the finish.
But he wasn’t done. And the two players who tallied assists on the first goal played a part in the second. This time, Edwards cross came from the left. And Vazquez glanced it past three Crew SC defenders to Ricketts who timed his far post run to perfection.
Suddenly, a one-goal lead snowballed into a deficit of the same margin. It marked the second time in three games that such calamitous defending resulted in a surrendered second half advantage at home. Crew SC let a 2-1 lead slip away on April 29th in a 3-2 defeat to New York City FC.
Crew SC nearly wrapped up the Trillium Cup. If they held on tonight, the Black and Gold would’ve won the trophy for the seventh time in the ten years the two teams have played for the trophy. Instead, the club is left to wonder what could’ve been after a chance to go top of MLS and upend their rivals fizzled away in the final nine minutes of regulation.
The two teams play the deciding match of the rivalry series at BMO Field in Toronto on Friday, May 26th.
With their three-game home stand complete, Crew SC now faces three straight on the road. It begins this coming Saturday against the Montreal Impact at Saputo Stadium. The match kicks off at 5 PM ET (MLS Live, Spectrum Sports OH, TVAS).
Photo credit: Columbus Crew SC Communications