TFC searching for firsts

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:46 PM ET

If recent history is an indication, it's anyone's best guess what tonight's Trillium Cup tilt in Columbus will offer.

It was last October when Crew goalkeeper Will Hesmer stunned BMO Field with a stoppage-time equalizer off a corner -- a moment of madness that kept the Crew's four-year unbeaten run against the Reds intact.

A season later, the Crew took advantage of poor officiating when then TFC midfielder Tony Tchani received a second caution for celebrating a first-half goal with fans -- a decision that forced TFC to play an entire half a man down before settling for a 1-1 draw in April.

Call it a turning point.

Toronto went on to win just one of its next 18 MLS matches before dropping well out of the playoffs and into obscurity. Still piecing together head coach Aron Winter's Dutch system seven months into the season, with just six league matches remaining, the Reds are left merely battling for Trillium Cup bragging rights and 2012 expansion draft protection rather than playoff positioning.

Recent results have all but forced the Reds to set aside another poor league campaign in an effort to provide optimism by way of the CONCACAF Champions League -- a competition the Reds are hoping will put a positive spin on the season if they can advance from the group stage next month.

But while most MLS matches from now through October will be meaningless as far as the MLS season is concerned, tonight's rivalry match -- at least supporters see it as that -- offers something to play for in terms of TFC firsts.

Despite good performances in recent meetings with the Crew, the Reds have never secured maximum points in Columbus and have taken just two points from a possible 12 at the venue in four seasons.

Not only would securing three points in Ohio be a TFC first, it would be the club's first MLS road win since this time last year.

Sitting atop the Eastern Conference, Columbus is somewhat of an anomaly. The yellows are coming off an embarrassing 6-2 away defeat to Seattle -- a game in which they were four goals down before the break -- and there are currently five teams with better records in the much stronger Western Conference.

The Crew's near perfect home form (8-1-4) has been critical to the Club's success in its push to lock up home field advantage throughout the MLS Cup playoffs.

For the Reds, a two-week summer break afforded TFC the time it needed to properly rest and rehabilitate players following a crowded mixed schedule of Champions League and domestic fixtures. Stefan Frei looks to be at full strength for the first time in a month and Danny Koevermans looks set to return from a hamstring injury he sustained in Panama.

The Dutch target could restart a somewhat stagnant TFC attack that has lacked the reliable outlet Toronto's system must play through if the Reds are to find success going forward.

But with an all-important midweek Champions League road match against Pumas Wednesday, management might hold out players in an effort to earn what would be an historic result should the Reds grab three points or a share south of the border.

With Torsten Frings likely returning to his more comfortable midfield position alongside Eric Avila, Winter could rest both Julian de Guzman and Terry Dunfield after lengthy midweek World Cup qualifying performances before the Reds travel to Mexico City.

A win in Columbus offers not only a rare chance for Toronto to add to its trophy case, but an opportunity to pick up momentous result at Crew Stadium in what would ultimately be the best preparation possible ahead to a difficult Champions League fixture in Mexico.


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