Toronto FC II plays their final home and penultimate match of the 2016 season on Sunday evening at the Ontario Soccer Centre when they host Orlando City B.
The Junior Reds have struggled over the past month and a half, losing their last five matches, the last five of which have been at home. They sit in a three-way tie, with FC Montreal and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, at the base of the Eastern Conference, on 23 points from 28 matches. Pittsburgh has two games in hand, whereas Montreal's goal-difference is markedly better than Toronto's (minus-16 versus minus-22).
The defeat last week mathematically eliminated TFC II from playoff contention and their season will come to an end on September 24 when they travel to Rochester to face the Rhinos.
There was some more news on the evolution of the squad this week, as they signed Ben Spencer to a USL deal on Thursday. The big striker is one the club has had an eye on for the past two years, having acquired him on loan for 2015 before injury saw him sidelined.
For those who cannot be in attendance, a live stream of the match can be viewed on YouTube – the action will kick off at 7:30 pm:
Their opponent this weekend, Orlando City B, enters the match on a slide themselves, having gone winless through their last six – their last victory came back on August 6, 2-1 against TFC II, at the Titan Soccer Complex, their awesomely-named home ground. Lewis Neal and Michael Cox, their leading scorer with ten, provided the goals either side of a strike from Mitch Taintor.
On 32 points from 27 matches, OCB currently clings to the eighth and final playoff berth in the East via a two-point lead over the Wilmington Hammerheads FC, though Wilmington's goal-different is four better at the moment. Orlando's final three matches are away as well – they travel to FC Cincinnati next weekend and close the regular season on September 25 at Bethlehem Steel FC.
With third-placed Cincinnati no safe bet and Bethlehem one of four clubs jockeying for that final spot – they sit five behind Orlando with three matches remaining, expect a desperate Orlando side, in need of points, come Sunday.
As one of the direct MLS affiliations in USL, Orlando City has seen a lot of first team players revolve through their lineup this season. Hadji Barry, Bryan Rochez, Conor Donovan, and Harrison Heath, to name but a few, have seen semi-regular minutes, so too has the aforementioned Lewis Neal, the former DC United midfielder, who has taken on a leadership role, captaining the young side, since joining Orlando and moving down to the USL level.
A few names that observers in Canada should keep an eye upon include Richie Laryea, who has featured in 23 matches for OCB this season, registering two assists in his debut professional season.
The 21-year old Sigma FC and Akron University alumni was selected seventh-overall in the 2016 SuperDraft by Orlando and loaned to OCB in March to enhance his development and was part of a Canadian U23 camp in May. He has been quiet in purple, however, yet to score, though a return to his hometown would be as good a time as any to open an account.
Along with Laryea, Michael Cox, a 24-year old Calgary-native and former FC Edmonton forward, who has excelled this season after a stint in Finland with KuPS.
And OCB are coached by Anthony Pulis, the son of Tony – he of recent Stoke City FC fame.
For TFC II, the return of Liam Fraser and Luca Uccello from international duty with Canada in Costa Rica and of Taintor from his red card suspension, as well as the recent signings of Spencer and John, gives Jason Bent plenty of options, while Chris Mannella and Skylar Thomas, who were not in the lineup last weekend may be available as well.
With the season all but over, it is equally possible that Bent will seek to use these last two matches as a trial for players on the bubble, giving a rest to those, such as Mannella and Thomas, who are sure to be around next season. These matches are a good chance to see what those who have not gotten minutes can display before the off-season overhaul begins in earnest.
With the first team in action on Saturday in Chicago, it is expected that TFC II will be without the services of Jordan Hamilton, Mo Babouli, and Clint Irwin, all of whom featured last weekend. It is possible that Irwin makes a third-straight start for TFC II, should Alex Bono retain his starting position against the Fire. Come game time on Saturday, the situation will become clear.
Clement Simonin, himself still working back from a lengthy injury spell, will look to marshal a back-line that needs to be better than it was last weekend, should the club hope to close out the season with some positives results.
Pre-match Video Interviews: Jason Bent, Raheem Edwards, & Wesley Charpie
Match Hashtag: #TORvORL
Club Twitter handles: @TorontoFCII @OrlandoCityB
Please follow along on our game thread, or just watch and chuckle as one man converses with himself tomorrow night