Jozy Altidore missed the first leg of the Eastern Conference series due to a red card incurred against the Red Bulls Nov. 5. (Photo courtesy of MLS)
TORONTO — Toronto FC’s one-two scoring punch returns as it hosts Columbus Crew SC in the crucial second leg of the MLS Cup Playoffs’ Eastern Conference championship at BMO Field Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET / FS1, TSN1/4/5, TVA Sports).
But will that be enough for Toronto?
After the Reds and Columbus played to a scoreless draw in the first leg in Ohio last week, away goals will be worth double for the visiting side.
In other words, a 1-1 draw would actually be a victory for Columbus.
Still, Toronto welcomes back with open arms striker Sebastian Giovinco (yellow card accumulation) and Jozy Altidore (red card in conference semifinal) returning from suspension. The dynamic duo combined for 42 percent of Toronto’s goal scoring (31 of 74 goals) during a record-breaking 69-point campaign in the regular season.
Whether they will be rusty after not playing a game in 24 days — they last performed in the 1-0 loss to the Red Bulls here Nov. 5 — is a another matter.
Still, head coach Greg Vanney would rather have them than not.
“With the additions of Jozy and Seba back, that’s going to pull the game forward a little bit more for us and give us two very different targets up at the top,” he said. “The game will have a different view no matter what [compared to the opening leg]. When you add two guys like that back to the game, it’s going to have a different feel to it. … We’re going to play to move the game forward and to go after their goal.”
On the flip side, Columbus blanked the league’s top offense last Tuesday at MAPFRE Stadium, recording its second shutout of the playoffs. of the MLS Cup Playoffs. Rookie goalkeeper Zack Steffen ’s 0.69 goals-against average ranks fourth-lowest all-time in playoffs among goalkeepers who have played at least 300 postseason minutes.
Crew SC is not playing for itself, but for Columbus soccer supporters in wake of team owner Anthony Precourt’s desire to move the team to Austin, Texas.
Columbus finished fifth in the conference, defeating New York City FC in the conference semifinals by an aggregate score of 3-2.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter didn’t buy that Columbus necessarily was a team of destiny.
“People forget that we went 12 games unbeaten,” he said. “We hadn’t lost a game since Aug. 5. We went three months without losing a game. I didn’t hear a lot of ‘destiny’ talk back in September. We’ve been plugging away. We’re a good team. We keep our heads down and we keep working. We want to play our game. It’s a really simple formula. … We want to host MLS Cup in front of our fans and we want to give them a great game – no better game than the MLS Cup. But we have to go out and do it.”
The conference winner will host MLS Cup Saturday, Dec. 9.