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Toronto FC and the Crew give us a game worthy of the rivalry

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Stefan Frei was forced to leave the game, and was on crutches.
Since the rivalry was launched in 2007, Columbus Crew-Toronto FC has generally been more about the subplots than the actual games themselves.

We had the battles between Toronto FC supporters and Columbus police; we had the diving and pratfalling of former Crew star Guillermo Barros Schelotto. But, until Saturday night, the quality of the games themselves haven’t always been of the highest quality.

Until Saturday, TFC had not beat the Crew, but that fact obscured the truth that Columbus’s, ahem, domination, included a heck of a lot of dour draws.

But Saturday’s match was one that did the rivalry proud. For Toronto FC fans, there was the joy of beating Columbus for the first time. And, for neutral fans, there was a fantastic spectacle a 4-2 win for the Reds— a relief in a weekend of non-competitive matches from England (and likely more to come from Spain).

It was also the Reds’ first road win of the season.

It was a loose affair, with defenders being pulled out of position on a regular basis and acres of space offered in midfield. It was the kind of game that drives the coaches nuts, as they watch their carefully placed Xs and Os scattered like seeds to the wind, but makes fans rise from the seats.

The signs that this game was going to be special came within the first 10 minutes. Toronto FC took the early initiative, making a series of forays deep into Columbus territory. Ryan Johnson beat the Crew’s Emmanuel Ekpo to a corner, but his header crashed off the bar.

But the Crew came right back down the field, with U.S. national teamer Robbie Rogers forcing a save from keeper Stefan Frei, back from an injury layoff — though his return would be short-lived.

But TFC got its deserved opener in the 20th minute. Torsten Frings fired a shot from outside the area — but it turned out to be a pretty decent pass. Nick Soolsma was able to control the shot, then turned and fired the ball into the goal behind Crew keeper Will Hesmer.

Johnson then found his range right before the halftime break. The Jamaican international showed some outstanding skill; he was backpeddling to get to a cross from Joao Plata, but still was able to get enough on the header to loop it over an out-of-position Hesmer and give TFC a 2-0 lead the break.

But, the second half saw a massive shift in momentum. TFC went from having the initiative to fending off a surging Crew side. Columbus exploited Richard Eckersley, who has been struggling of late at the right back position for TFC. While he remains a fan favourite, his game has slipped considerably since he first arrived in MLS.

After moving into space where Eckersley should have been, Crew Designated Player Andres Mendoza was able to lash a drive that Frei did well to stop. Minutes later, Dilly Duka turned Eckersley inside out and was able to walk into the box, forcing Frei into another save.

Frei’s participation in the game came to an end in the 66th; as Frei got his hands to a cross from Rogers, a charging Emilio Renteria crashed into him. Renteria hit Frei low, and the goalie was sent head over heels and crashed to the ground. He watched the rest of the match while on crutches. Renteria also left the game.

But, right after the subs were made, Tommy Heinemann, who came in for Renteria, got the Crew back to 2-1 with an unfortunate assist to Eckersley.

Rogers caught Eckersley out of position as an Ekpo pass found him down the left side. With Eckersley trailing the play, Rogers was able to square the ball to Heineman, who finished with a shot under the bar that gave back-up keeper Milos Kocic no chance.

The Crew kept coming in waves, and looked far more likely to get the equalizer. But the Crew’s defence,which gave up six to Seattle two weeks ago, gifted TFC midfielder Julian de Guzman a goal. A heavy touch from the usually dependable Chad Marshall gave de Guzman a chance to pounce on the ball at the top of the box, and he fired a low drive inside the post.

Columbus got one back in the 86th, when Mendoza slammed a shot in the top corner after a wonderful one-touch pass from Heinemann. But TFC striker Danny Koevermans wrapped up the points when he was able to round Hesmer and score the insurance goal in injury time.

“All the goals, the movement, how we played in the final entry, I think we did well,” said TFC coach Aron Winter after the match. “Most of the games we have created a lot of opportunities but we were not sharp enough with finishing, but today we were sharp with our opportunities even though they weren’t that good.”

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