May 1, 2009 MLS Toronto FC vs Columbus Crew (from

Role reversal as TFC play host to Crew
Match marks first Trillium Cup with Reds atop Conference, Columbus at bottom
By Mark Polishuk / Staff

TORONTO -- Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew will meet for the eighth time in their Trillium Cup rivalry Saturday, and this meeting will be quite different from the previous seven. The match marks the first time that the two sides have met with Toronto at the top of the Eastern Conference and Columbus, surprisingly, at the bottom. Back-to-back victories have elevated the Reds to the top of the East table with 11 points, while the Crew have just four points from six matches and are tied with Los Angeles and Dallas for the lowest point total in all of Major League Soccer. The Crew (0-2-4) and Galaxy (0-1-4) are the only teams without a win yet in this young season, and while the Galaxy's struggles are unsurprising given their low finish in 2008, Columbus expected a much better start in defense of their first MLS Cup.

In spite of the Crew's early problems, nobody in the Toronto camp is taking them lightly given the one-sided nature of the rivalry. The Reds are 0-3-4 all-time against Columbus, including a 1-1 draw on March 28. A win on Saturday would clinch this season's Trillium Cup for Toronto, signifying a season series win against their Ohio foes.

"I don't think they're as desperate as people are saying. They're a good team, obviously winning the championship last year and they're still a team that we've yet to beat," said forward Danny Dichio, who has appeared in all but one of these Toronto-Columbus matches. "They're a bit of a bogey team for us. So it would be nice to put one over them in front of our home fans. But it's going to be a difficult game, they have some fantastic players and we have to be on point for Saturday."

Sam Cronin believes that a quick start to the game is crucial if the Reds are going at all take advantage of any doubt that might exist in the minds of the Columbus side.

"They haven't won a game yet so they're probably questioning themselves a bit," Cronin said. "Our start is very important. If we get a goal early on they might shy away a little bit. But obviously they're a great team with a lot of unbelievable players. One of these days they're going to start clicking and coming along, so we have to make sure it's not this weekend."

It hasn't been the quick starts as much as the painful finishes that have plagued the Crew this season. In all three of its home games, Columbus has allowed a game-tying goal in the final 10 minutes of the game. Last Saturday, the Crew held a 2-0 lead after 85 minutes against Chicago but still wound up with a 2-2 draw.

TFC benefitted from a late Columbus breakdown themselves in the first Reds-Crew game earlier this season. Toronto was six minutes away from defeat when Crew defender Gino Padula accidentally put the ball into his own net to even the score and ultimately give TFC a point.

As someone who watched TFC concede a number of late goals themselves last season, Reds interim head coach Chris Cummins feels that the Crew's record isn't a true reflection of the club's quality, and wants to create as much space as possible between his side and the defending champions.

"It's a bit of an unfair reflection of where they are at the moment," Cummins said. "They are down at the bottom at the moment and it's a big game for us because if we get the three points, we draw three or four games away from them which is important to do.

Saturday's match will mark Cummins' first proper game as Toronto's interim head coach. He led the team last Sunday in a 1-0 win over Kansas City, just a day after the surprise resignation of head coach John Carver, and Cummins was officially given the reins on Wednesday.

Cummins' stewardship has led to one win already, as TFC continues to reap the benefits of the 4-3-3 formation that created so many problems for the Wizards and for Chivas USA in TFC's 1-0 result against the Red-and-White on April 22. This lineup could see a new wrinkle with the possible return of Dwayne De Rosario. The Canadian midfielder has been out of action since suffering a strained hamstring against Dallas on April 19, but returned to the pitch on Thursday for his first training session since the injury occurred.

"It felt good. I'm excited to be back," De Rosario said "It's never good to be away, especially with a hamstring because you never know when it might pop up, so I was mindful of it in training. If I felt anything I wasn't going to push it, but it felt good today.

"Hopefully I'll be ready [for Saturday]. Not the 90 minutes, but give me spot duty and hopefully I can get my foot in there. But [I'll play] only if it's 100 percent. I'm not trying to rush anything. It's a long season, a lot of games ahead of us."

Cummins said that he and the medical staff will monitor De Rosario's condition and then decide if he is fit for Saturday. Cummins was pleased with how De Rosario acquitted himself in training in what has become something of an unlikely fight for playing time for the star midfielder.

"We've just asked him to ease into it, but you know DeRo, he doesn't ease into anything and he's gone at it hammer and tong," Cummins said. "We're just keeping an eye on him. That's his first training session since he's been out injured, but he's desperate to play, he wants to play. He's not one of those that's going to come in and take it easy. He has to go at it 100 percent and it'll be up to us just to put him back at the right times.

"It's always difficult to change a winning team. Just because he's Dwayne De Rosario doesn't mean he has a given right to get himself back on the team, and he knows that. ... He knows he needs to work his way back onto the team and he said he's looking to do that."

This competition is fine with De Rosario, who is pleased to be on a team that has the bench strength to go 2-0 without one of its best playmakers.

"It is good to have depth and have positions under threat so that players don't feel too comfortable," De Rosario said. "If you look at all of the great teams in the world they all have a lot of depth with guys who are hungry to come in and prove a point. ... We will need everyone within the squad during the season."

This depth will be necessary in the coming weeks as Toronto FC embarks on its busiest period of the season. The Columbus match kicks off a stretch of nine games over the next 36 days, as the Reds have a full slate of MLS games as well as three of their four matches in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship against USL-1 sides Vancouver and Montreal.

The grueling schedule will no doubt be hard on the entire team, but it may be particularly difficult for first-year players such as Cronin, who isn't used to playing so many high-pressure games in such a short period of time. Cronin's impressive performance this season has shown that the rookie has adapted well to Major League Soccer, and he thinks that his team has the structure in place to keep everyone energized.

"It's a lot different from what I'm used to, it kind of emotionally and mentally takes a little more out of you just in getting prepared and having to perform in front of all these people," Cronin said. "But it's been good. We have a great staff and senior players to help the young guys through it, so we're just going to keep doing what we're doing."

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