Toronto FC holds Columbus Crew to 0-0 draw in first leg of Eastern final
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, November 21, 2017 10:21PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, November 21, 2017 10:23PM EST
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- An under-strength Toronto FC tied Columbus Crew SC 0-0 in Game 1 of the MLS Eastern Conference final Tuesday night, surviving to fight another day.
It was hardly a masterpiece but Toronto got the job done. And top-seeded TFC will be able to roll out its big guns -- Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco -- back from suspension when the series switches to BMO Field.
Fifth-seeded Columbus came close late.
Toronto 'keeper Alex Bono made a huge reflex save in the 85th minute, denying Harrison Afful from in close and substitute Kekuta Manneh's shot off the rebound was blocked.
Brazil's Artur shot just wide in the 72nd minute and Manneh hammered one off target in the 82nd for Columbus but chances were few and far between -- and several other Columbus efforts were called offside.
Toronto offered little on offence, with a patient safety-first approach that cleared the decks for the series rematch.
The second leg is Nov. 29 at BMO Field, where Toronto has lost just twice this season. One of those defeats, however, came last time out at the hands of the New York Red Bulls in the conference semifinal.
The Eastern final is a matchup of two teams on a mission, with league-leading Toronto looking to take another step on its record-breaking season. Columbus, meanwhile, is in an us-against-everybody mood as debate continues off the field on the franchise's future in the Ohio state capital.
The home team gave out yellow-and-black flags to fans but many entered Mapfre Stadium holding yellow .SaveTheCrew signs. The first "Save Our Crew" chant came in the eighth minute.
It was clear and nine degrees Celsius at kickoff with a phalanx of red-clad flag-waving Toronto fans squeezed into a section of the upper tier.
Toronto was without star strikers Altidore and Giovinco, who were serving one-game suspensions in the match with the Red Bulls. They combined for 31 (44 per cent) of TFC's 74 regular-season goals.
Canadian international Tosaint Ricketts, who scored seven goals during the regular season including a pair against Columbus, led the Toronto attack.
Jonathan Osorio also came into the TFC lineup with Nicolas Hasler replacing Eriq Zavaleta as coach Greg Vanney went to a 4-4-1-1 formation rather than the usual 3-5-2.
Captain Michael Bradley played deep when Columbus had the ball, keeping a close eye on Argentine playmaker Federico Higuain. As in recent away games, Bradley was booed whenever he touched the ball. The jeers didn't affect his game however, as he was a force in midfield, breaking up Columbus attacks.
The Crew managed just one shot on target in the first half while Toronto had none. Columbus screamed for a penalty in the 52nd minute after Pedro Santos went down in the penalty box. But the contact with Bono seemed a minimal clash of boots and referee Robert Sibiga waved it off.
Fifth-seeded Columbus finished 15 points below top-seeded Toronto in the regular season but the Crew have been hot of late. Prior to the playoff loss to NYCFC, Columbus was unbeaten in 12 games (8-0-4).