Crew set to take on Toronto FC
The Columbus Crew are off to the best start in team history, leaving them as the only club with maximum points through the first four weeks of the season.
They’ll try to make it four straight wins to start the season Saturday night at home when they face Trillium Cup rival Toronto FC, which could be without its two major offseason acquisitions as well as a key defender.
"I don’t think you could have seen it," first-year Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said of his team’s start after Saturday’s 2-1 stoppage-time victory in Seattle. "We knew we wanted to develop, we knew we wanted to grow as a team, and we knew we wanted to improve. We’ve made strides in every game that we’ve played. The guys have accepted the way we want to play, and that’s been key."
Columbus rallied from a goal down Saturday on Federico Higuain’s 59th-minute penalty score and Justin Meram’s 94th-minute goal from a Higuain corner.
Higuain is off to a scorching start with three goals and two assists, giving him a hand in five of the club’s six strikes.
He also has five goals and two assists in five career matches against Toronto. Two of those goals came in a 2-0 home win Aug. 17 to give the Crew a 2-1-0 series victory in the 2013 Trillium Cup.
"It’s a rivalry based on season results and anytime you’re playing for a cup, you want to win it," Berhalter told the club’s official website. "We’re excited about this competition."
Both clubs have a player who played the full 90 minutes in Wednesday’s United States-Mexico friendly. Columbus center back Michael Parkhurst went the distance but is expected to face Toronto.
"There are guys all around the world doing it every week," Berhalter said. "We expect him to come back tired, but in good condition to play."
Midfielder and U.S. national team star Michael Bradley, coming off an outstanding performance against Mexico, has also played every minute for Toronto in his first season with the club. His status for this game is uncertain.
Toronto (2-1-0) knows it will be without two other starters. Fellow offseason signing Jermain Defoe left Saturday’s 3-0 loss in Salt Lake with a strained left hamstring, while defender Steven Caldwell is serving a one-game suspension for a first-half foul.
Defoe has scored all three of Toronto’s goals, and the team is unsure of when it’ll be able to rely on him again.
"It’s a slight strain, so I think he’ll be out for the short term," coach Ryan Nelsen told the club’s official website. "It’s not a major strain. (He’ll) be definitely unavailable this weekend."
While his teammates will miss him Saturday, his second-half availability meant little against Real Salt Lake after Toronto conceded three goals in 55 minutes.
"It was an uncharacteristic start for us," Nelsen said. "We didn’t really come out of the blocks very well. We weren’t focused enough from the start. The goals that we conceded were pretty soft. We have a lot to improve on and a lot to get better."
Toronto has lost five of the last six meetings with the Crew and is 1-7-2 all-time in Columbus.