Columbus Crew vs. Toronto FC Prediction, Preview, and Odds - 5/29/21

Two struggling Eastern Conference powerhouses will look to get things going on Saturday afternoon when the Columbus Crew host Toronto FC. After winning MLS Cup a season ago, Columbus is off to a middling 2-2-2 start, although it beat New York City FC 2-1 last weekend to cash in as a huge +326 road underdog. Toronto is down in 12th place in the East at 1-2-3 after being shut out 1-0 at Orlando City SC last Saturday as a +235 underdog.

These teams met recently on May 12, with Toronto rolling to a 2-0 win in its temporary home of Orlando.

Toronto’s offense blanked in another loss

Toronto has consistently been one of the best clubs in MLS over the past few years, but is off to a poor start in 2021 as it was shut out for the second time in the last four games against Orlando City last weekend. Tesho Akindele scored the only goal of the game for Orlando in the 12th minute, and Toronto was unable to break through against one of the best defenses in MLS despite getting a few good chances, including a wild final sequence where Pedro Gallese made two outstanding saves.

Goaltender Alex Bono made four saves, and played a solid match as he had little chance on Akindele’s header after a defensive breakdown. Toronto outshot Orlando 19-10 with six of those going on goal, and Orlando only had a narrow advantage with 51% possession.

After ranking as one of MLS’ most prolific offenses last season, Toronto is averaging just 1.17 goals and 10.83 shot attempts per match so far. Toronto’s defense is allowing 1.67 goals and 10.5 shots per game, with its lone clean sheet coming against Columbus.

Seven different Toronto players have scored one goal apiece this season, with Michael Bradley also adding an assist. Jonathan Osorio returned from injury last week after scoring back on April 24 against Vancouver in his only other match played this season, and was Toronto’s best player by expected goals.

Injuries have been a crucial factor in Toronto’s poor start, as reigning MLS MVP Alejandro Pozuelo is yet to play due to a leg injury, but has at least returned to full training this week. Defender Omar Gonzalez left last Saturday’s game in the 81st minute with an apparent leg injury and his status is uncertain.

Defending champs get back in the win column with comeback

After getting shut out in back-to-back games the previous week, Columbus picked up its second win of the season last Saturday against NYCFC thanks to a late rally. NYCFC led for the vast majority of the match after scoring in the 18th minute, but Lucas Zelarayan led a late charge with goals off free kicks in the 82nd and 95th minutes to pick up all three points.

The Crew were outshot 17-10 in the match and only managed three shots on net, although they did hold a possession advantage at 57%. Goalkeeper Eloy Room saved three of NYCFC’s four shots on target to keep Columbus only down one after the early goal.

Columbus’ issues have been on the offensive end, as it is averaging just 0.83 goals and 8.33 shots per game while getting shut out in four of its six matches. The Crew has maintained a strong defense, allowing 0.83 goals per game, although opponents have racked up 17 shots per match.

All three goals for the Crew this season belong to Zelarayan, as their other two tallies came on a pair of own goals by D.C. United in a 3-1 win on May 8. Luis Diaz has ranked as Columbus’ most dangerous played by the expected goals plus assists metric, but is yet to find the back of the net or provide a helper.

Columbus has slowly gotten healthier after a rash of preseason injuries, but midfielder Kevin Molino (hamstring) and fullback Milton Valenzuela (hamstring) are among the big names who are not expected to play on Saturday.

Side prediction: Columbus +105

Total: Under 2.5 (-118)

Even though this matchup went the other way just weeks ago, the Crew are too talented to keep playing like a mid-table team for much longer. Last weekend’s dramatic victory could serve as a springboard for Columbus’ season, while Toronto has plenty of problems on both sides of the ball as long as Pozuelo isn’t at full strength.

Breakdowns in central defense have been an issue for Toronto dating back to the end of last regular season, and the Canadian side has allowed a whopping 9.4 expected goals in six matches this year. This matchup will provide a good opportunity for Columbus’ struggling offense to get going, and this loaded frontline with stars like Darlington Nagbe, Artur and Gyasi Zardes should start providing some goal scoring support to Zelarayan soon enough.

Even with the mediocre start to the season, Columbus’ defense has been excellent so far, and Toronto hasn’t shown enough consistency on offense to break down the Crew. Bet on Columbus to get revenge for its loss two weeks ago and pick up a victory at home here.

The first matchup between these two teams went under this total, and the two teams combined for just 2.1 expected goals in that game. While the Crew will be a better offense than they have shown so far, this is ultimately a side that has a lot of work to do as it has only recorded 3.8 expected goals for the season and simply isn’t getting many shots on net at this point.

There’s no replacing Pozuelo’s elite playmaking for the Toronto offense, and he is unlikely to be at full strength even if he’s able to make his season debut on Saturday. While both offenses should be better on paper, until they prove an ability to consistently generate chances, the under is the play

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Nathaniel Reeves

Nathaniel Reeves is an avid sports fan with degrees in journalism from the University of Washington and statistics from Western Washington University. He's always had a passion for applying statistical analysis to sports betting and has successfully handicapped college football, college basketball, and Esports for years. Nathaniel has endured being a lifelong fan of the Seattle Mariners, along with the Seattle Seahawks, UW Huskies and soon to be Seattle Kraken. We are thrilled to have Nathaniel as a part of our team.