A six-point belter is slated for Saturday night when both the Columbus Crew and Toronto FC look to help their playoff causes at the expense of the other.
The Crew (7-5-14) are lurking on the fringe of the playoff race, seven points behind Montreal for the seventh and final playoff spot but also looking to extend their season-best five-match unbeaten run (3-0-2). Columbus, though, had to scramble to salvage a point in its first Ohio derby with FC Cincinnati, grabbing a 2-2 draw last Saturday as Gyasi Zardes converted a penalty just before halftime and Pedro Santos netted just after the hour.
Columbus controlled play for much of the second half and had chances to steal all three points late, but Zardes squandered a gilt-edged chance and David Accam's shot deflected off a defender and hit the crossbar.
"If one of those four or five chances where the keeper makes a save or Gyasi at the back post, that goes in, it's one of the best comebacks I've been a part of, one of the best wins I've been a part of," Crew coach Caleb Porter lamented. "We should've, we should've won the game at the end. So, that's what I'm going to choose to focus on, obviously there's some things to clean up on the goal.
"They scored two goals on four shots. I think we doubled their shots and yet we gave up two goals, so we have to do better defensively."
Zardes has scored goals in back-to-back contests and has tallied three times in six matches since returning from international duty for the U.S. in the Gold Cup. The Crew are seeking their first three-game unbeaten run at home since reeling off three straight wins from March 16-April 6.
Toronto FC (9-6-10) is one of three teams on 33 points with Montreal and Orlando City, but the Reds are last in that pecking order via league tiebreakers with fewer wins than the Impact and a worse goal difference than the Lions.
Greg Vanney's team, though, is looking to build on the momentum of reaching the Canadian Championship game following its 3-0 second-leg victory over the Ottawa Fury on Wednesday night to advance 5-0 on aggregate. Nick DeLeon had a first-half brace as Toronto FC ended any hopes of a possible comeback by the USL side in the first quarter-hour with DeLeon's first goal.
"We just want to keep building momentum, it doesn't matter who against, it doesn't matter what the competition is," Vanney told the Toronto Sun. "We have to get a little bit of the swagger back. We did what we were supposed to do (against Ottawa) and now we need to be ready to take care of business on the weekend."
The game also marked the debut of Erickson Gallardo, who was signed from Venezuela's FC Zamora before the close of the transfer window. The 24-year-old impressed on the right wing, showing quickness and an ability to get crosses into the penalty area.
While the offense has been consistent with 39 goals, Toronto would like to carry the defensive performance over into this match more. The Reds have just one clean sheet in their last 14 league matches and conceded two or more goals in six of their 11 road contests.
The Crew took four of a possible six points between the teams last season and rallied from three down in the final 23 minutes to salvage a draw at home through Zardes, Alex Crognale and Federico Higuain. Toronto, though, has taken points in five of its last six visits (1-1-4).