Atonement for that failure is not the only burden borne by TFC, which rolled to a regular-season record of 69 points as Supporters’ Shield winner yet scraped past the Red Bulls in the conference semifinals on away goals (2-1, 2-2 aggregate). Last week in the conference finals -- missing Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco (both suspended) -- it failed to put a shot on goal while limiting Crew SC to three attempts on frame (out of 14) in a 0-0 tie.
“You don't see me banging my head against my wall at home, sitting there, waiting to play,” said Altidore. He and Giovinco haven’t played a competitive match for more than three weeks. “Days go by, weeks … that's the format. With international breaks there is nothing you can do about it, so everybody has got to deal with it. It's frustrating, but you've got to keep yourself ready, focused on what we're playing for.”Stepping stone. The return of two star attackers who scored a combined 31 goals plus the home-field advantage places the burden of favorite squarely upon TFC, which also notched 43 goals from other sources in the regular season, with Victor Vazquez and Justin Morrow notching eight apiece. Columbus, beset by turmoil of a proposed move to Texas, is a popular sentimental choice yet also a most capable one that advances with a victory or any tie involving goals, or possibly via penalty kicks after a 0-0 tie, as it did in Atlanta.
Crew iron-man. Crew SC can expect a siege at BMO Field, where the busiest man might be Crew SC keeper Zack Steffen. He’s played every minute of every league and playoff match this season after getting zero minutes in 2016 as a midseason Discovery Player. TFC lit him up for five goals when the teams played at BMO back in May but he’s a major reason Crew SC’s only loss in its last 13 games is that defeat in Yankee Stadium.
Outsiders and observers can speculate about the team’s long-term future. The coaching staff and players are focused on those matters they can control: mindset, preparation, and performance.
“The thing about long seasons is when you get to the end, you’re playing for something, so it’s very easy to get motivation,” said head coach Gregg Berhalter on Sunday after a training session. “Wednesday there’s a championship on the line with the potential to host the MLS Cup. So there’s so much on the line. These are the best days.”