Underdog Crew host Toronto FC in Eastern finals
Columbus Crew SC continues its improbable postseason rum amidst off-field turmoil involving possible relocation of the franchise.
Toronto FC seeks to cap the best regular season in MLS history with a second straight appearance in the championship match.
However, each team has a common goal heading into the first leg of the aggregate-goal Eastern Conference finals Tuesday at Mapfre Stadium in Columbus: redemption.
It was at that venue in 2015 that Portland defeated the Crew for the MLS Cup title. Last season, Toronto hosted the MLS Cup and lost to Seattle on penalty kicks.
The second leg for this series is Nov. 29 in Toronto, with the winner once again having home field for the MLS Cup on Dec. 9 against either Houston or Seattle from the Western Conference.
TFC this season posted the most points (69) ever and the second-best points per-game average (2.03) to the 1998 Los Angeles Galaxy (2.13).
Toronto must deal with the loss of star forwards Sebastian Giovinco (16 goals, six assists in 25 games) and Jozy Altidore (15 goals, six assists in 25 games) for the first leg.
Giovinco is out because of an accumulation of yellow cards and Altidore received a red card for a skirmish with New York Red Bulls in the tunnel at BMO Field in Toronto during the second leg of the conference quarterfinal.
TFC coach Greg Vanney is putting a good spin on their absences, noting the team's depth. Tosaint Ricketts, who scored two late goals in a 2-1 win in Columbus on May 10, will likely start up top and Victor Vazquez may play behind him in a supporting role.
"There will be a little bit of uncertainty on the other side because we have options and have used options at different times this year," Vanney said.
Columbus has embraced the underdog role.
The Crew, the fifth seed in the East, defeated No. 4 Atlanta on penalty kicks in the knockout stage. They then advanced through the quarterfinals with a 4-3 aggregate over No. 2 New York City, all while news broke on Oct. 17 that investor/operator Anthony Precourt is strongly considering moving the team to Austin, Texas, for the 2019 season.
Crew fans have shown their support by selling out Mapfre Stadium for Tuesday's game.
"We've had this (underdog) title for a while now," Crew defender Jonathan Mensah said. "We have to go out and there and show what we can do and get the result and move onto the next round.
"We've come a long way. There's no time to relax."
Updated November 20, 2017