Suspensions leave Toronto FC without stars for first leg of conference final

Columbus Crew and Toronto FC prepare at a previous matchToronto FC is set to open the Eastern Conference Final without their top two scorers. Toronto visits the Columbus Crew on Tuesday for the opening leg of their playoff round, but Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco will both be out of the lineup due to suspensions that could prove costly to Toronto’s title hopes.

Altidore and Giovinco were both suspended for actions during the previous playoff round against the New York Red Bulls. Altidore received a red card in the second leg against New York for his part in a halftime scuffle with some Red Bulls players, while Giovinco was shown a yellow card in both legs of the tie, resulting in a one-game ban. The two forwards form the lifeblood of Toronto FC’s attack, accounting for 31 of the squad’s 74 goals during the season, and their absence is one that can’t be completely filled by players like Tosaint Ricketts.

Without two of their three designated players, the key to Toronto FC’s success on Tuesday will lie in their midfield. Michael Bradley normally orchestrates Toronto’s matches from a defensive midfield position, but he will likely try to help a little more with offense in this shorthanded situation, while Toronto’s top playmaker Victor Vazquez will need to be at his creative best to generate chances against Columbus’ stout defense.

The Crew haven’t lost at home since July, and they showed their dominance in the previous playoff round with a 4-1 home win over New York City FC. Columbus is a very methodical squad, wearing opponents down and applying pressure at the right moments to overcome its general lack of marquee talent. While the Crew don’t excel in any one area, they don’t have any specific weaknesses either. In fact, their biggest weakness might be the drama occurring off the field due to news about the longstanding franchise potentially moving to Austin as early as 2019.

Altidore and Giovinco will be back in Toronto FC’s lineup for the second leg of the conference final, which is next Wednesday in Toronto.