COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Columbus Crew will have two streaks on the line on Saturday afternoon at BMO Field (4 pm ET, Direct Kick, MatchDay Live) and one may need to continue for the other to also be extended.
The Crew have never lost to Toronto FC in 11 all-time meetings (5-0-6) and will likely rely on their record-setting defense to make it a dozen in a row unless the stagnant Columbus offense can get untracked in the first of two meetings for the Trillium Cup.
While the Crew have scored just four goals in 2011, they set a club record last week against Sporting Kansas City with their fourth straight shutout and tied another mark with 373 scoreless minutes. Columbus have not allowed a goal since they conceded three goals in the season opener at D.C. United.
“It’s not about keeping the streak alive,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said. “It’s about going out and playing the way we’ve played every game. We have to try and get more goals to take a little pressure off our defense.”
While the Crew have dominated the series since Toronto entered the league in 2007, most of the matches have gone to the wire. No finish has been more dramatic than last October when Columbus goalkeeper William Hesmer scored off a Gaven corner kick in stoppage time to stun the TFC fans and earn a 2-2 tie.
“I’m sure it left a bad taste in their mouth,” Gaven said. “It felt good. They’ve played us tough every single time, but fortunately we’ve had the upper hand.”
TFC’s management is trying to build the profile of the Trillium Cup, but the Crew don’t necessarily feel as intensely about the matchup.
“It’s just another team we need to win against,” Crew manager Robert Warzycha said. “Maybe because they bring so many fans [to Columbus] it’s a little bit different than other teams.”
If the rivalry is going to take off, the catalysts for the sparks could be former TFC players Jeff Cunningham and Julius James.
Cunningham is still one goal shy of the MLS all-time scoring record of 133. Three of those strikes came in Toronto, where he played 16 matches before being traded by TFC during the 2007 season.
He would relish the opportunity to net his first goal of the 2011 season on Saturday because many TFC fans viewed his stint in Canada as a failure.
“If they want to think that way, that’s up to them,” he said. “Then again, Toronto fans, they hate everybody. I don’t need to answer to them.”
Defender James can attest to that. He was dealt to Houston in 2008 after one season in the Canadian city. He has already played at BMO Field against his former club while wearing the colors of D.C. United.
“The last time they were talking smack and I scored the game-winner when I played for DC,” he said of the 1-0 win last September. “That’s a pretty good way to stick it to them. Fans are fans. They are going to support their team. It’s all in good fun.”