TFC II will play its first ever league game on Saturday versus the Charleston Battery. The opposition couldn't be harder for a new team like TFC II, as the Battery have been a very successful team in the lower ranks in the US soccer pyramid. The Battery have won two USL Championships in four years. They also have a USL affiliation contract with the Houston Dynamo, meaning most players on this team have links to the Dynamo.
TFC II will have their hands full, but with some highly talented youth players signing USL contracts early this week, and having some younger players from the first team being sent down, maybe TFC II can muster up a win against the fully charged Battery.
The Battery had a very strong preseason, posting a 7-1-2 record. They have a talented squad with players like forward Dane Kelly and keeper Odinsel Cooper leading them in the front and end of the pitch, while captain Jared vanSchaik adds leadership in the middle. The Dynamo have loaned out key young players Oumar Ballo and Memo Rodriguez to help them get more playing time to grow as first team players. Ballo is a 6-2, 185lb centreback who could be deployed on the wing if asked. Rodriguez, a ball moving midfielder can add creativity to an already tough Battery side. Even without those two Dynamo players, the Battery can still field a very tough squad.
Toronto FC II:
TFC II are embarking on a journey to show that Toronto FC can develop top young players and not just spend money to get global talents. Two weeks ago, TFC II had no players on its roster and no one really knew who was going to make the cut. However, last Thursday eight TFC II hopefuls were signed to USL contracts, and on Friday, they announced that several TFC players have been loaned out to the second team and that they have signed four TFC Academy players. Going into the game on Saturday, we will finally have a much better picture of what TFC II will look like for the season. The several players on loan are not guaranteed to stay on the team the whole season, as they will be sent down to gain more minutes in case they don't get any first team action. Some will stay, like Chris Mannella who was announced to be the club's first captain, and some will go, like Jay Chapman who has clearly impressed TFC coach Greg Vanney.
Keys to the Game:
For the Battery, it is hard to plan against a team they have never played against, let alone never played a league game before. The Battery had an impressive pre-season and want to work off that energy. Last year they finished fifth and were knocked out in the Quarter finals, so this season is kind of redemption for a team that has been successful over the years. To beat TFC II, they have to not think this well be an easy win and relax on defence. Players like Jordan Hamilton, Mannella, Molham Babouli and Mark Anthony Kaye can all spoil a game for any opposition.
For TFC II, the first game of a new season can always be difficult, but the first game in franchise history can be a taunting task. Having most players not use to the USL style may be a hard task to overcome, since most of its players played in college, the academy or League 1 Ontario. For TFC II, they need to work off of a successful pre season and not be caught trying to be too fancy with the ball and play conservative soccer. The Battery's two tall centre backs will cause trouble with crosses, and leading scorer Dane Kelly will have to be closed in on to make sure nothing get's by. It's the early stages of their history and it will take a few games to find a style that fits for the players they have.
I predict this game will be won by the Battery, who just edge an inexperienced TFC II side. TFC II defence does have some holes, but Clement Simionin, Skylar Thomas and Daniel Fabrizi can stand tall. The Battery's experience of playing more pre-season games and being more adapted to a higher level of soccer will help them. This does not mean the attacking options TFC II has will fail, they just won't be able to get that push past a log jam defence of the Battery's ability.