Toronto and Columbus play 0-0 tie to start conference final
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Neither Toronto FC nor the Columbus Crew was unhappy with the 0-0 draw in the first leg of the MLS Eastern Conference Final.
Nonetheless, Toronto would seem to have the upper hand as the two-game aggregate-goals series heads back to its home field.
Toronto, which set an MLS record for points in the regular season with 69, will have two key players back for the second game. Sebastian Giovinco (16 goals, six assists) and Jozy Altidore (15 goals, six assists) served one-game suspensions Tuesday night.
Giovinco was out because of accumulation of yellow cards in the conference quarterfinal against the New York Red Bulls. Altidore was given a red card in the second leg.
“We’re an entirely different team with them on the field,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney said. “Also, it adds something different for (the Crew) to deal with.”
With away goals used as the tiebreaker for the series, Toronto was hoping to put one past Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen but did not have a shot on goal.
“There were a couple of acceptable results,” Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said. “Zero-zero is one of them. It’s a result we can live with. If we score in Toronto, it changes the whole complexion.”
Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley likes his team’s chances to repeat as conference champions.
“We needed to leave here with the opportunity to finish things at BMO Field next week. We did that,” he said. “We came here and controlled things and handled things in a good way.”
Crew midfielder Artur had a 25-yard blast in the 73rd minute that just missed the right post. Toronto goalkeeper Alexander Bono made a save on Harrison Afful in the 85th minute to preserve the draw.
“Alex Bono has been great,” Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney said. “We talk about it every game it seems like.”
The Crew got stronger offensively as the match went on and had another opportunity go awry in the 91st minute when Ola Kamara couldn’t get on the end of a cross from Justin Meram.
“We kept pushing. We didn’t give up,” Berhalter said. “We tried to create goal-scoring chances. I wouldn’t say we were frustrated.”
Despite the late push, the Crew doesn’t see the momentum carrying into the second leg.
“I don’t think it changes much,” Crew defender Josh Williams said. “Obviously we wanted to score a goal. But there’s still a long ways to go.”
The winner of the series hosts the MLS Cup on Dec. 9 against the Western Conference winner, either the Houston Dynamo or Seattle Sounders FC, who won the 2016 MLS Cup with a victory over Toronto on penalty kicks.
Toronto was 2-2-0 in games without Giovinco and Altidore this season, including a 5-0 win over the Crew on May 26. ... Toronto went 2-1-0 against the Crew this season. ... Artur’s yellow card foul on Bradley in the 33rd minute means he will miss the next match.