|Jairo Arrieta of the Columbus Crew is squeezed off the ball by the Reds' Dicoy Williams (left) and Richard Eckersley in Columbus last night. The Reds dropped a 2-1 decision. (Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OH - A second-half surge from Toronto FC failed to cancel a two-goal hole in Columbus Wednesday night as the Reds fell for the fourth time in five MLS matches.
After goals from Federico Higuain and Eddie Gaven saw the home side go up 2-0 before the hour mark, despite watching Luis Silva cut the Crew’s deficit late on at Crew Stadium, the Reds simply couldn’t make up for a slow start.
Continuing the bad habits they picked up last Saturday in a loss to Kansas City, the Reds were lazy to track back four minutes in, which allowed Gaven to collect a pass from Higuain at the top of the area minutes in.
Free and clear to strike on goal, Gaven’s deflected shot wrong-footed Freddy Hall in the Bermudian keeper’s first start in place of Milos Kocic.
With the Reds failing to offer anything going forward through the first half, a good sequence in the 33rd minute saw the Crew’s Jairo Arrieta nearly get on the end an Emilio Renteria cross.
Just out of the Costa Rican’s reach, Arrieta’s lunging miss kept the Reds in it heading into halftime.
In search of an equalizer on the road, the match opened up after the break with both sides going close in quick succession.
Back in his role as the Reds’ right back, after completing a quick combination with Andrew Weideman along the touch line, Richard Eckersley served in a cross that fell to Terry Dunfield at the near post.
Dunfield’s first touch went back to Weideman, who scuffed his wide open look over the frame in the 52nd minute.
The Crew rattled the woodwork a minute later after a coast-to-coast run from Higuain ended with a layoff to Chris Birchall, whose first-time curler from the right edge of the box beat Hall before coming back off the frame.
Still in search of a player to partner with Darren O’Dea in the centre of TFC’s back four, head coach Paul Mariner issued returning Jamaican international Dicoy Williams his first MLS start since the middle of last season.
While Toronto’s offence looked out of sorts for most of the night — producing no shots on goal in the first half — the lack of urgency on the Crew’s eventual winner indicated Williams isn’t the answer.
Just before the hour mark a cross from Renteria was headed back across goal by Gaven before it fell to Arrieta at the penalty spot, whose layoff was hammered home by Higuain to briefly double the home side’s advantage.
Likely showing he made a few mistakes with Wednesday’s roster decisions, fresh legs midway through the second half saw Toronto continually threaten through the final 20 minutes.
In the 71st minute, buzzing second-half substitute Quincy Amerikwa connected with Eric Hassli in midfield before putting Luis Silva in behind the Crew’s defence.
In alone on Andy Greunebaum, Silva calmly rolled his shot into the far corner past the Crew’s onrushing keeper to issue Toronto a glimmer of hope.
Amerikwa nearly provided TFC the equalizer it deserved 10 minutes from time when he climbed between a pair of Crew defenders before putting his header directly at Greunebaum — the last time the Reds would see a meaningful effort in front of goal.
The loss also saw the Trillium Cup — the manufactured derby between Toronto and Columbus — return to Ohio after the Crew topped TFC 1-0 at BMO Field earlier this season.
After being forced into Wednesday night’s makeup match due to the untimely passing of Crew midfielder Kirk Urso earlier this month, the Reds will travel to Houston in time for another league match on Saturday before returning to BMO Field ahead of a decisive Champions League group stage fixture against Mexico’s Santos Laguna.
With Houston set to be Toronto’s fourth match in 10 days, ahead of what many are calling a must-win at home for the Reds early next week, Mariner could choose to rest a number of regulars against the Dynamo in the buildup to facing last year’s CONCACAF finalists.