Reds’ depth will be tested

With both star strik­ers sus­pended, Toronto FC looks else­where for goals

Kenora Daily Miner and News - - SPORTS - NEIL DAVID­SON

Toronto FC has touted its depth all sea­son. Now comes per­haps the ul­ti­mate test — an Eastern con­fer­ence fi­nal against Colum­bus Crew SC with stars strik­ers Jozy Alti­dore and Se­bas­tian Giovinco sus­pended for Game 1.

On the plus side, the league lead­ers have done it be­fore — and won big. Toronto routed Colum­bus 5-0 at BMO Field on May 26 with­out Alti­dore (sus­pended) and Giovinco (in­jured).

And Toronto lost 2-1 in Colum­bus on April 15 in the only game against Crew SC this sea­son that both Alti­dore and Giovinco started.

In their only other meet­ing this year, vis­it­ing Toronto de­feated Colum­bus 2-1 on May 10 with an in­jured Giovinco (heel) watch­ing and Alti­dore play­ing the lone striker, ahead of Span­ish play­maker Vic­tor Vazquez. Backup striker To­saint Rick­etts scored twice off the bench.

Toronto’s eight goals against Colum­bus this sea­son came from Rick­etts (two), Vazquez (two), Alti­dore, Justin Morrow, Jonathan Oso­rio and Jor­dan Hamil­ton.

Toronto has ap­pealed Alti­dore’s red card from Game 2 of the con­fer­ence semi­fi­nal Sun­day, ar­gu­ing he was the vic­tim rather than the ag­gres­sor in the half­time tun­nel melee that also saw Red Bulls skip­per Sacha Kl­jes­tan ejected.

Bar­ring a re­prieve, Rick­etts will likely lead the at­tack in Colum­bus. The pacey Cana­dian in­ter­na­tional had seven goals and an as­sist in 22 games (in­clud­ing nine starts) this sea­son. Two of those goals came Sept. 16 in Los An­ge­les when Toronto, with­out Alti­dore and Giovinco in the lineup, blanked the Gal­axy 4-0.

“Tos should be chomp­ing at the bit right now for a chance to go make a big dif­fer­ence,” Toronto coach Greg Van­ney said of Rick­etts. “I know he’ll be ready.”

Vazquez, who can score goals as well as set them up, will also play a key part in the se­ries.

With an in­ter­na­tional break de­lay­ing mat­ters, the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nal doesn’t open un­til Nov. 21 in Colum­bus. The re­turn leg is Nov. 29 at BMO Field.

“We need to go there and get some­thing out of it,” Van­ney said of the se­ries opener at Mapfre Sta­dium. “We did a good job of do­ing that in the New York se­ries (where Toronto won Game 1 2-1).”

Both Toronto and Colum­bus ad­vanced de­spite los­ing the sec­ond leg of their semi­fi­nals Sun­day.

Toronto was beaten 1-0 by the sixth-seeded New York Red Bulls at BMO Field but moved on thanks to the away goals rule af­ter the se­ries ended tied 2-2.

Fifth-seeded Colum­bus lost 2-0 to No. 2 New York City FC at Yan­kee Sta­dium but won 4-3 on ag­gre­gate.

Colum­bus (16-12-6) fin­ished 15 points below Toronto (20-5-9) in the stand­ings this sea­son. But it has been hot of late.

“A dif­fer­ent matchup be­cause they’ll play soc­cer and they’ll try to break you down and they’ll try to play with the ball,” said Van­ney, in a clear dig at the Red Bulls. “Very tac­ti­cal, I think, in their ap­proach.

“I have a great deal of re­spect for what (Colum­bus coach Gregg) Ber­hal­ter tries to do with his team ... I think it’s go­ing to be an in­ter­est­ing matchup.”

De­spite an un­cer­tain fu­ture off the field with owner An­thony Pre­court ex­plor­ing a move to Austin, Texas, Colum­bus has been on a roll. Prior to Sun­day’s loss, Colum­bus was un­beaten in 12 games (8-0-4) since an Aug. 5 loss in San Jose.

Both sides en­joyed record home cam­paigns with Toronto 13-1-3 and Colum­bus 12-3-2.

Alti­dore (16 goals) and Giovinco (15) ac­counted for 42 per cent of Toronto’s league­lead­ing 74 goals this sea­son. That in­cluded nine gamewin­ning goals.

They took 45 per cent of the team’s shots (196 of 440) and 49 per cent (82 of 168) of the shots on tar­get. The duo also han­dled eight of TFC’s 11 penal­ties this sea­son.

Vazquez and Morrow had eight goals apiece. In ad­di­tion to Rick­etts, 10 other TFC play­ers scored this sea­son.

Nor­we­gian in­ter­na­tional Ola Ka­mara led Colum­bus in scor­ing with 18 goals while Amer­i­can-born Iraq in­ter­na­tional Justin Meram added seven.

Vet­eran Ar­gen­tine play­maker Fed­erico Higuain had 14 as­sists to go along with his nine goals.

MARK BLINCH/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

With­out stars strik­ers Jozy Alti­dore and Se­bas­tian Giovinco — who are sus­pended for Game 1 against the Colum­bus Crew SC — Toronto FC will need to tap into their depth to get goals from else­where. Justin Morrow (pic­tured) got one of the eight goals the Reds scored on Colum­bus dur­ing the sea­son.

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