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Big Surprise in MLS Eastern Conference Opener

Crew defeats Toronto as Impact’s next two opponents clash . . .

MLS: Columbus Crew at Toronto FC
Higuain (Columbus) star performer in midfield.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Confident Columbus Crew, Montreal’s next road-trip opponent, refused to be intimidated by Toronto FC’s burgeoning reputation, deservedly winning the MLS 2018 Opener 2-0 at bumpy, BMO Field.

The Crew was the more accomplished side against a very flat defending champion, which lacked intensity throughout, apart from 10-minute spell in the second half when they threatened to get a foothold on the game.

Goals came either side of the interval, the wonderful Federico Higuain volleying the first on 44, and Gyasi Zardes finishing off a fifteen pass combination, without a home player touching the ball after the restart. Ironic, as Toronto had left Columbus waiting out on the pitch for their arrival to begin the second-half. But it was the home side who were caught cold!

MLS: Columbus Crew at Toronto FC
Tango - team-mates Higuain and Valenzuela celebrate the MLS opening goal for 2018. Made and finished in Argentina . . .
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

It all underlines the size of task, and the levels required from Montreal, early season, with both these sides lying in wait. Every single point will be important in a highly competitive Conference.

Columbus’ passing game was impressive, often Higuain, the orchestrator, prompted good breaks, and the pace of Zardes and Martinez, who brushed the post with the game still scoreless, will trouble more teams this season.

TFC’s best efforts came when Giovinco and debutant Ager Aketxe rattled the woodwork, but Greg Vanney won’t be getting overly concerned just yet.

Possibly the players had one mind on the big CONCACAF quarter-final coming up on Wednesday evening, it sure looked like that, and well, sometimes a highly successful season like TFC in 2017, can lead to a hangover at the beginning of the next.

Vanney will maybe reconsider his midfield diamond which afforded too much space to Higuain and Artur, and will be hoping that next time, the Toronto Altidore shows up rather than the one that toiled so unproductively during his Premier League days at Sunderland and Hull City.

2017 MLS Cup - Seattle Sounders v Toronto FC
Jozy Altidore - Off-day . . .
Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Toronto’s next MLS outing will be as the opposition to Montreal in the Impact’s home opener. Bleu, Blanc, Noir, by then, could be facing a wounded animal, particularly if TFC’s trip to Mexico doesn’t go quite so well. It promises to be quite an occasion at The Big O on St Patrick’s Day!

Before that however, Remi Garde’s mind will be on a strategy to deal with impressive Columbus, and how best to nullify the threat from Higuain, a player who has caused problems for the Quebecers on more than enough occasions already.

MLS: Montreal Impact at Vancouver Whitecaps Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The pacy spearhead of Zardes and Martinez will be of concern also, although it may be more difficult for the pair to get in behind the Montreal rearguard, than what we saw against Toronto.