Toronto FC has overcome coaching turmoil to get atop the Eastern Conference. The Columbus Crew are at the bottom despite being the defending champions.
With Chris Cummins getting the call as interim coach, Toronto looks to keep the Crew winless Saturday in a matchup of teams at opposite ends of the East.
Toronto (3-2-2) took over sole possession of first place, one point better than Kansas City and Chicago, with a 1-0 win over the Wizards on Sunday. That came a day after coach John Carver's sudden resignation.
Carver stepped down for personal reasons, just six games into his first MLS season. Toronto filled the void by hiring Cummins on an interim basis.
"We have a great team spirit here and no matter what happens with the (coaching) staff or any of that ... we have to go out and show the fans that we're strong as a unit," Toronto forward Danny Dichio said.
Cummins and Nick Dasovic ran the team Sunday. Dasovic provides Cummins with plenty of support, having served as a Canada national team assistant coach and Olympic team head coach.
Cummins takes over a team that is seven points ahead of last-place Columbus (0-2-4) in the East. Last season, the Crew finished 22 points better than Toronto en route to winning the MLS Cup.
However, with just four points in six games this year, Columbus is off to the worst start by a defending champion in league history.
"We have to keep working hard and hopefully the bounces will start going our way," Crew midfielder Eddie Gaven said. "We have to keep on fighting."
A matchup with Toronto could help get Columbus on track. The Crew have never lost in the series, going 3-0-4.
Columbus was leading 1-0 entering the final 20 minutes of a matchup with Toronto on March 28, but the game ended in a 1-1 tie after Crew defender Gino Padula's own goal in the 85th minute.
Last Saturday, Columbus was beating Chicago 2-0 before Padula was handed a red card in the 57th minute, and the short-handed Crew allowed two goals in the final four minutes as the game ended in a 2-2 tie.
Due to the red card, Padula will be suspended for Saturday's contest.
Columbus midfielder Adam Moffat, who appeared in just his second game since May of last season due to knee surgery, may have to sit out the next few weeks with a hamstring injury suffered last Saturday.
Top Crew goaltender William Hesmer, meanwhile, is still suffering from a strained left knee. Andy Gruenebaum is expected to make his second straight start in goal.
Columbus clearly missed Hesmer against Chicago, failing to hold the lead after Chad Marshall and Alejandro Moreno scored in the first half. Neither player had scored this season prior to that game.
Dichio scored his first goal of the season against Kansas City, becoming Toronto's sixth player with at least one.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press