A red card on Toronto FC defender Justin Morrow just before halftime transformed what had been a back-and-forth Trillium Cup showdown Saturday at MAPFRE Stadium, turning it into a 2-0 Columbus Crew SC rout.
As many predicted, the match opened in a track meet. Columbus' high-flying fullbacks pressed up in attack, while the likes of Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore sprang forward at every TFC opportunity on the break.
It led to a slew of chances in the first half, especially in the opening minutes.
Giovinco tried a shot from nearly midfield in the third minute, then botched a one-on-one breakaway moments later. In the seventh minute, a loose ball fell to new Crew SC striker Kamara just three yards away from goal, but TFC goalkeeper Joe Bendik was there for a quick-reaction save.
As the half wore on, both sides settled into their strategies, with Crew SC seeing more of the ball and shots, while TFC seemed happy to defend and sprint forward on the counter.
But the landscape changed drastically in the 45th minute, when Morrow was sent off on a controversial play just before the whistle.
It happened when Crew SC midfielder Ethan Finlay pounced on a TFC giveaway and sprinted up field. As he burst free, only Morrow was close enough to catch the speedy Crew SC winger, and he lunged into a last-ditch tackle from behind. Morrow seemed to reach the ball, but Finlay went down just outside the Toronto box.
Referee David Gantar immediately whistled for a foul. After commotion from both sides and consulting with his assistant for a moment, Gantar showed Morrow red, presumably for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.
A man down, it wasn't long before Columbus found their breakthrough goal of the 2015 season.
In the 57th minute, Finlay once again found space on the right and put a cross directly onto the head of Meram, who placed it perfectly into Bendik's goal to open his account on the season.
Just four minutes later, Crew SC doubled their total when fullback Waylon Francis floated a perfectly placed ball onto the foot of Kamara, who put it past Bendik for his first goal since returning to Columbus last summer.
With both Eastern Conference clubs on three points after two matches, they’ll get next weekend off. Crew SC return to action March 28 at home against the New York Red Bulls, while TFC play at Real Salt Lake the next day.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Justin Meram||Clinical finish for the game opener and one of the most dangerous Crew SC attackers|
|2||Mohammed Saeid||Was the spark in Crew SC's dynamic attack; Berhalter may have really found something in the Swedish newcomer|
TFC's Italian star looked dangerous, especially early, but was taken out of the game after red card