Toronto FC will have to deal with a makeshift offence and chilly conditions for its home opener Saturday against the Columbus Crew.

Toronto (0-1-1) is short on strikers with Adama Diomande and Ayo Akinola both injured.

Diomande had to leave last weekend's 1-1 tie in Atlanta in the 45th minute and Akinola, who replaced him, exited in the 73rd minute. Coach Bob Bradley said both players had their hamstrings tighten up.

“We have some decisions to make,” Bradley said Friday.

Star winger Lorenzo Insigne, who sat out the Atlanta game after suffering a lower body injury in the season-opening 3-2 loss at D.C. United, is listed as questionable. While Bradley said he was optimistic about the Italian's health, it will come down to how the former Napoli captain feels Saturday.

Veteran midfielder Victor Vazquez is back in training after being sidelined briefly by a non-COVID illness.

it promises to be a cold night at BMO Field with a forecast of minus-three, feeling like minus-seven Celsius, in the evening. The good news is the lakefront stadium has most of the bells and whistles available, including underground heating, when it comes to the playing surface.

“It's going to be a difficult game,” said Columbus coach Wilfried Nancy, in his first year at the Crew's helm after leaving CF Montreal in early December. “I know that the weather apparently in Toronto won't be so good so it's going to be good to see how resilient my players will be. We're going to face a good team and good opposition. But the idea is to focus on us.”

Columbus (1-1-0) bounced back from a season-opening 4-1 loss in Philadelphia by blanking D.C. 2-0 with Argentine designated player Lucas Zelarayan earning player of the week honours for his two-goal performance.

Toronto trained under the bubble Friday with snow falling outside.

“Early season (in the) MLS is challenging,” said Bradley. “But when you get that first chance to play at home, having a really good effort, showing the people that, you know what, this team is ready for a big step this year, I think those things are all really important.”

Midfielder Jonathan Osorio, a local product who leads Toronto with 320 appearances in all competitions, is no stranger to the wintry conditions.

“Home opener at BMO field nothing like it,” he said. “I feel whatever the weather is, the fans come out and they support us. That's why they're the best in the league.”

Italian star winger Federico Bernardeschi's smile was as big as the snowbanks around Toronto's training ground when asked about the weather.

“Maybe I've played in my career just two times with the snow,” he said in English. “But I know in Toronto it's cold. For me it's not a problem because football is football … and when the field is good, everything is good. It's a little bit cold but, OK, we will figure it out. And we will play a great match, for sure.”

Bernardeschi has been hot on the field with a goal in each of the first two games.

The draw in Atlanta ended a six-game losing streak dating back to last season. But TFC remains winless in eight (0-6-2) with its last league victory coming Aug. 27 - a 2-0 decision in Charlotte thanks to goals by both Insigne and Bernardeschi.

Toronto lost its last two home games last season - against Inter Miami and Montreal. The club has not lost three straight at BMO Field in all competitions in more than a decade, since losing five in a row at home from March to May in 2012 when it opened the season with nine straight losses.

The Crew have won the last two meetings with Toronto, both by 2-1 scores. Before that, TFC had lost just two of its previous 12 regular-season meetings (6-2-4) with Columbus.

The Crew have plenty of Toronto ties, with president and GM Tim Bezbatchenko, vice-president Jaime McMillan and assistant GM Corey Wray all former members of the TFC front office.

The Columbus roster includes Canadian forward Jacen Russell-Rowe and defender/wingback Mo Farsi, as well as former TFC defender Josh Williams.

The 23-year-old Farsi, a former Cavalry FC player who was named the Canadian Premier League's Best Canadian U-21 Player in 2020, has started the first two games for the Crew, while Russell-Rowe saw action off the bench against Philadelphia.

Russell-Rowe made his first-team debut for Columbus in Toronto last June, setting up both goals in a 2-1 Crew win. The 20-year-old forward from nearby Brampton, spent seven years with the Toronto academy.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 2023