COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Crew held on to dispatch Toronto FC 2-1 Saturday, sending TFC into the international break with plenty of troubling questions on and off the field.
Toronto is 1-4-2 in MLS play and has won just two of 11 matches (2-6-3) in all competitions this season. TFC, which finished second overall in the 2020 league standings at 13-5-5, started the day in 25th spot.
There is a question-mark over the future of star striker Jozy Altidore, who is on the outs with the club. And the club learned late this week that Venezuelan international winger Yeferson Soteldo, another of its designated players, will be out four-to-six weeks with a hamstring injury.
Toronto GM Ali Curtis says the club will hold talks with the disgruntled Altidore over the international break to determine his future. TFC doesn't play again until June 19.
The good news for Toronto on the day was that Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo, the league's reigning MVP, came on in the 55th minute for his first action of the season after a thigh injury.
Pozuelo was a breath of fresh air, bringing the stagnant TFC attack to life when he touched the ball.
Luis Diaz and Gyasi Zardes scored for defending champion Columbus (3-2-2). The score could have been more lopsided had it not been for some fine saves by Toronto 'keeper Alex Bono.
Ayo Akinola scored for Toronto, which had downed Columbus 2-0 in their previous meeting May 12 at Orlando.
Toronto was distinctly second-best in the first 45 minutes, but put on a far better show in the second half. Captain Michael Bradley had a chance to tie it in the 96th minute but Columbus goalkeeper Eloy Room made a diving save.
Columbus went ahead in the 12th minute on what was essentially a Diaz breakaway after a Toronto corner at the other end. Bradley's delivery hit a foot in the penalty box and the ball went to Pedro Santos at the edge of the box.
He sent it forward to an onrushing Diaz who — with no Toronto defender hanging back — raced the length of the field untouched before tucking the ball past Bono.
Toronto was carved open again in the 21st minute on another rapid-fire counter-attack. Santos was the provider again, sending in a marvellous cross that split the two Toronto centre backs and allowed Zardes to acrobatically get a foot to the ball and deflect it past Bono.
It marked Zardes' 50th goal in all competitions for Columbus.
The goal started on a giveaway by Jacob Shaffelburg off a TFC throw-in deep in the Columbus end. Four passes later the ball was in the Toronto goal.
The goal survived video review. Zardes had had another goal called back for offside minutes earlier.
Toronto had more success after coach Chris Armas moved Richie Laryea further up the field from his original fullback role.
Akinola cut the lead to 2-1 in the 52nd minute, outmuscling two defenders to get to a rebound given up by Room on Laryea's shot. It was the first goal of the season for Akinola, who started in place of Altidore.
Bono made a fine save to stop a Josh Williams header off an 80th-minute corner and then got his hands to a swerving Lucas Zelarayan shot in the 86th.
Saturday marked the Crew's penultimate game at Historic Crew Stadium, Major League Soccer’s first soccer-specific stadium. The curtain will go down June 19 against Chicago Fire FC.
Their future home, currently dubbed New Crew Stadium, will open its doors in July.
Armas made four changes to his starting 11 from last time out in Orlando, replacing the injured Soteldo, Omar Gonzalez and Jonathan Osorio with Eriq Zavaleta, Nick DeLeon and Shaffelburg.
Columbus made two changes to the team that beat New York City FC 2-1 last time out with defender Jonathan Mensah dropping to the bench and the injured Waylon Francis not dressing.
Down 1-0, Toronto got a break when a Zardes goal was called back for offside in the 19th minute. A long ball from Williams, a former TFC player, set up the play exposing the Toronto backline.
Zelarayan, who recorded two of his three free kicks goals this season in the NYCFC win, had a chance from set piece in a dangerous position in the 31st minute but the ball went straight to Bono.
Toronto did not put a shot on goal in the first half and had just 34.2 per cent possession.
Rookie Luke Singh, making his third career MLS appearance, came in for veteran defender Chris Mavinga to open the second half. Zelarayan came close just after the hour mark, curling a free kick just wide of the far post.
At the other end, Pozuelo began to influence play, finding teammates in space.
Toronto came into the match undefeated in the past five meetings (3-0-2) with Columbus and had lost just twice in the last 12 league contests (6-2-4).
Still, the Crew held a 9-4-6 all-time regular-season edge at home, outscoring Toronto 36-28. And Columbus came into Saturday's match undefeated at home in 11 matches (9-0-2) in all competitions, a run that dated back to last October.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2021
The Canadian Press