Toronto FC II held an end-of-season media day on October 6 following the conclusion of the 2016 regular season.
The club enjoyed some improvement on their inaugural USL campaign, collecting more wins and improving on their goal-scoring prowess even if they finished once more near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Twenty-six points from 30 matches left them in 12th place and short of the playoffs.
Several players – Luca Uccello, Liam Fraser, Raheem Edwards, Brian James, and Mitch Taintor – spoke to the media, as did head coach Jason Bent.
All of the interviews are available at TFC.ca.
As a largely developmental side in a professional league, there will always be additional challenges that TFC II must overcome to compete. The club was unable to find a consistent XI or starting goalkeeper, fielding some 44 different players over the course of a 30-game season. Navigating the constant movement down from the first team and up from the academy ranks is no easy task.
With the season having come to a close, it seemed a good time to ask if the players and staff could pick out a favourite moment. Interestingly enough, there emerged a consensus; one that bodes well for the 2017 season.
“The last game, against Orlando City B, was a great moment,” said Uccello. “It was our best game of the season, you could just feel the chemistry going. It was so good, it was almost easy to play. It was a great moment, getting a win in our last game at home.”
Taintor echoed his teammate’s sentiments, though he had a different perspective. “The last game was awesome,” said Taintor. “I couldn't play in it because I was suspended. But being in the crowd it was great to see the guys win that game and pull through.”
“Our win against Orlando, our last [home] game,” said James as well. “As a team we played very well and the fans were great. They brought it all for us. And my first goal, unfortunately it was in a loss, but I got it in the 90th minute. I'll never forget that moment.”
James' goal, his first of two this year, came in a May 24 road loss to the Harrisburg City Islanders.
Such 'firsts' were another theme that evolved out of the simple question – and moments like that can help spur a young player on to greater things.
Fraser, too, admitted his first goal was a special moment before quickly focusing on the team's development over the course of the year.
“I was quite happy when I scored my first goal,” said Fraser. “I'm pleased with some of the performances that we were able to put out, especially that last game against Orlando, [to] get the win for the home fans. That was probably it, a great performance.”
Fraser scored two goals this season, with the first he spoke of coming in a 1-1 draw against FC Montreal on June 15 at the Ontario Soccer Centre.
Of all those interviewed, it was Raheem Edwards who perhaps had the most to recall. Not only did he lead the team in both goals and assists, with six and four respectively, he also made both his first team and MLS debuts this season at the end of June and the beginning of July.
“When I made my first-team debut in the Canadian Amway Championship, getting in there and winning a cup was something that I'll remember for the rest of my life,” smiled Edwards.
Edwards was instrumental in the late push that saw Will Johnson score the stoppage-time winner in Vancouver to regain the Voyageurs Cup for the first time since 2012, injecting some pace and daring into a side desperate for a spark. He would stay with the first team for their next MLS match, at home against the Seattle Sounders, coming on for Eriq Zavaleta in the 88th minute with the score at 1-1.
It should come as little surprise that Bent had the most to say, highlighting three matches that were of particular importance.
“The game against Montreal, at their place, the Olympic Stadium [on April 9]. We were winning 1-0, they drew [level] in the 80th minute, 1-1, and then we got a wonder goal from Malik [Johnson] to win the game 2-1,” recalled Bent. “That was a nice little benchmark for us, going to that stadium two years in a row and beating them. That was important.”
“The second game was Cincinnati [on June 18],” continued Bent. “We lost 2-1, but I was pleased that the players were able to show themselves in that environment, [in front of] 19,000 people. We were up 1-0, but all of a sudden they scored two goals, basically within two minutes.”
“For our players to be able to experience [how loud it was in that stadium], some of them 17 years old, was fantastic for me as a coach. To sit on that sideline and see them not shrink in that atmosphere, but embrace it and still play their football. Despite the loss I thought that was a huge step.
“And obviously, the game against Orlando. We haven't been playing out of a 4-4-2 diamond system all year, but we implemented it towards the back of the season. Everything came together in that game. The team played really well and showed strength of character to come back from a goal down. And lastly, the supporters were fantastic that day. That was a good way to close out our home stand.”
That one of the most memorable moments came in the final home match speaks to the progress the group made over the course of the season. That bodes well for the year ahead. TFC II will remain together, training until November 15, before breaking for the offseason.
“We're looking to build off [the win over Orlando] next season,” said Fraser. “We dropped off in the last away game against Rochester, but if we're able to pick points out of that game against Orlando and implement it next season, we'll have a much better and successful season.”
“Ending the year on a positive note was a really positive thing, obviously,” added Taintor. “That's the last thing we'll think of going into preseason next year; something we can build off.”