A shutout, three points on the road, the Trillium Cup and a berth in the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs. Columbus Crew SC accomplished everything it set out to do Saturday afternoon in Toronto.
“It was one of those must-win games,” said midfielder Ethan Finlay, who scored Crew SC's first goal in the 40th minute. “We identified it, having two games left, that we needed to come here and get a result, and we did that.”
That was no easy task for the Black & Gold, as Toronto pushed numbers up and applied a great deal of pressure in the second half. But Columbus stayed cool, played composed defensively and added a second goal courtesy of a beautiful chip by Federico Higuain to win the match 2-0.
“It was a tough match,” Finlay said. “I think we showed a lot of character in this game, especially in the second half. It wasn’t easy, they applied a lot of pressure. […] It was a big performance for us.”
Finlay said he and his teammates were hoping to make things right after a tough loss at BMO Field in 2014. With Saturday’s performance, they were able to do just that and reclaim the Trillium Cup they left in Toronto last year.
"I thought the atmosphere was good, the intensity of the game was good,” Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter said. “I thought we executed well and I’m happy with the result.”
Finlay continued his successful season against the Reds, scoring the game-winner. Federico Higuaín curled in one of many perfect corner kicks, Tony Tchani headed it down to the back post and the winger was there for the swift finish with his right foot before the ball could even touch the ground.
In Crew SC’s earlier two meetings this season with TFC, Finlay already tallied two assists and a goal. With his goal on Saturday, the midfielder is now in his second consecutive double-digit season with 10 goals and 13 assists. He is one of only three players League-wide to reach double-digits in both categories. The other two are Toronto's Sebastian Giovinco and Sporting Kansas City's Benny Feilhaber.
His goal-scoring counterpart on the day, Higuain, had several brilliant looks on goal, including a couple that hit the frame. In his 100th career start in Black & Gold, Pipa was rewarded in the 91st minute. Aaron Schoenfeld, who had entered the match not even two minutes earlier, flicked on a Waylon Francis throw-in with his head. The ball landed at Higuain's feet, who bodied up on Toronto defender and former Crew SC player, Josh Williams, before chipping in a half-volley to the bottom right corner of the goal.
With that, Crew SC celebrated winning the Trillium Cup for the sixth time in eight seasons and clinching a spot in the playoffs.
“Hopefully it’s the first [trophy] of many here for the end of the season,” Finlay said. “It’s great, it’s definitely rewarding. It was a playoff atmosphere; you could tell there was a little bit of a rivalry that might have started brewing here tonight.”
The rivalry between the two Eastern Conference foes may continue brewing, but Crew SC walked away proud this time. A strong defensive performance by Barbasol Man of the Match Michael Parkhurst and newcomer Gaston Sauro led to Steve Clark’s fifth shutout this season and three huge road points for Columbus.
"It certainly boosts the confidence—the guys worked hard,” Berhalter said.
Crew SC is taking that confidence into its final regular-season match against D.C. United at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday, October 25. The Black & Gold will look to secure second place in the Eastern Conference with a win.
But they'll have to do so without Higuain and forward Kei Kamara, who will be suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Their suspensions were the only negative part of an otherwise perfect afternoon in Toronto.