Despite fielding a weakened starting lineup, Toronto FC was able to knock off the only remaining perfect MLS team, beating the Columbus Crew 2-0 at Crew Stadium on Saturday in a game highlighted by an early Michael Bradley goal.
The match pitting Gregg Berhalter's upstart Crew and Toronto's star-studded roster was marred before the game began by Toronto's absences. The Reds' prolific Designated Player Jermain Defoe missed the match due to injury, while captain Steven Caldwell served a one-game suspension. Rookie Nick Hagglund started the match in the center of defense alongside Bradley Orr, and Kyle Bekker got a rare start in place of the injured Jonathan Osorio.
Building off of his dominant midweek performance against Mexico, Bradley opened the scoring in the 11th minute. Mark Bloom found a streaking Bradley down the right side of the Columbus defense, and Toronto's captain took goalkeeper Steve Clark by surprise on a shot from a tight angle near the endline, putting it through the 'keeper's legs and into the side netting.
The remainder of the first half was frenetic for both sides. A plague of turnovers in the middle of the field prevented the Crew from playing the possessing brand of soccer that they prefer, while Toronto largely relied on those giveaways to start attacks that often ended in crucial tackles by Columbus defenders Michael Parkhurst and Giancarlo González.
For the second week in a row, the Crew went into the locker room trailing at the half, and much like the Seattle match, the team responded after halftime by controlling the opening minutes after intermission.
Though they couldn't muster an early goal in the second, a foul on Federico Higuaín gave the Crew a dangerous free kick in the 49th minute. Bernardo Añor knuckled a hard shot, but Júlio César punched the driven ball away, preserving the Toronto lead.
Midway through the half, Toronto seemed comfortable with their lead, and largely played to contain the Crew attack. For long stretches, Columbus passed the ball around in the Toronto third and pumped crosses into the box, but very few attacks had any merit, and most fell harmlessly by the wayside.
A flurry of action in the final ten minutes saw the Crew squander several more chances after loading the field with attackers to deal with the defensive-minded Toronto. Last week's hero Justin Meram and Costa Rican forward Jairo Arrieta couldn't provide enough offense, and despite a flood of attacking movements, Columbus couldn't find a goal.
Completely against the run of play, Toronto forward Issey Nakajima-Farran came off the bench for his first MLS appearance, found space on the counterattack and clipped home a Justin Morrow cross in the 85th minute to put the match out of reach for the visitors, clinching the TFC win and handing the Crew their first loss of the Berhalter era, giving both teams a 3-1-0 record.
Next week, the Crew travels to San Jose April 13 to face the Earthquakes, while Toronto hosts the Colorado Rapids on April 12.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Michael Bradley||Fresh off his USMNT performance, Bradley was dominant and led a seemingly-undermanned TFC to the win|
|2||Bradley Orr||Shook off an apparent injury to keep the clean sheet on the road, in a new position, alongside a rookie. Not bad|
|3||Julio Cesar||Made a few key stops when Toronto needed them, preserving the clean sheet for the visitors|