Columbus Crew SC hosts Supporters’ Shield winners Toronto FC on Tuesday night for Leg 1 of the Eastern Conference Championship. With standing-room only tickets available, this will be the first time the teams have met in the Major League Soccer Cup Playoffs. The match is set to kickoff at 8 p.m. ET at MAPFRE Stadium.
Crew SC and the Reds have a historic rivalry stemming from the Trillium Cup, beginning in 2008 — when Toronto entered the League. The Trillium is both the official state wildflower of Ohio and Ontario’s provincial flower. The Black & Gold dominated the early years, winning the first three editions and three of the ensuing five, but the Reds have won the last two, including this year’s.
Williams, a native of Copley, Ohio, native featured for his home-state Crew SC in 2010-14 before helping Toronto in 2015-16 en route to last year's MLS Cup Final. He re-signed with Columbus in January.
“From a personal level, it’s everything you can dream of,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “You go from one [rival] to another and you end up playing them in the Conference Final.”
Williams' teammate, Justin Meram sees the Trillium Cup as an illustration of the differences in the franchises on top of it being an important playoff meetings — adding depth and importance.
“They’re built differently than we are,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “The amount of money they’ve spent on three players — or maybe one player — matches our whole salary. So they’re built differently and successful, and you give them credit, but we’re completely different. I think that’s what makes a great matchup.”
And while Toronto’s 2016 MLS Cup loss is still fresh in every Reds' mind, Columbus' similar experience on their home field in 2015 is almost certainly festering for Ohioans.
“They lost in 2016 in the finals and we lost in 2015,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “So we’re both dealing with disappointment, and want to correct that. And whoever wins this is hosting, so there’s even more on the line.”
This will be the fourth time the Great Lakes Rivals have matched up this year and the 32nd meeting of all-time. Crew SC hold a 13-8-10 all-time record against TFC and a 9-4-4 all-time record at home.
An international storyline predicating Leg 1 on the field is the suspensions of two of TFC's superstars Jozy Altidore (red card for a tunnel fracas against the New York Red Bulls) and Sebastian Giovinco (yellow-card accumulation). Toronto Technical Director and Head Coach Greg Vanney's team, who already have a pair of trophies are aiming for the first MLS Cup/Supporters' Shield/domestic cup treble in league history. But this Conference Championship is sure to test them as an entire roster, missing two key components to start the two-game, winner-moves-on series.
Crew SC wrapped up the 2017 regular-season in stellar form, riding an impressive 12-match unbeaten streak before suffering a meaningless loss in Leg 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal. The Black & Gold aim to repeat the results of that round's first leg match at MAPFRE Stadium — a lethal 4-1 knockout punch against New York City FC.