Toronto FC II dropped their final match of the 2017 USL season on Saturday night, losing by the odd goal in seven at the Ontario Soccer Centre in a clash against playoff-bound FC Cincinnati.
In a match that was very much emblematic of the entire season, Tsubasa Endoh gave the hosts a two-goal lead in the opening half-hour, but Danni Konig pulled one back before half-time to set up an action packed second frame.
Kenney Walker levelled for the visitors after the break and Shaan Hundal reinstated the lead shortly thereafter, but Djiby Fall's equalizer set up a thunderous finish that saw Justin Hoyte nab the winner for Cincinnati in front of a strong contingent of travelling fans.
Jason Bent made several changes to his starting eleven from the side that lost 4-2 to Bethlehem Steel FC on October 6.
On the back-line both Rocco Romeo and Brandon Onkony stepped into the outside centre-back positions, in place of Julian Dunn and Lars Eckenrode, on the right and left respectively, while both wing-back slots also saw wholesale changes with Dante Campbell and Ashtone Morgan in for Jordan McCrary and Anthony Osorio.
Endoh and Luca Uccello took up the advanced midfield positions, ahead of Liam Fraser, replacing the starting duo against Bethlehem: Matt Srbely and Sergio Camargo. Hundal, riding a three-match scoring streak, was paired up top with Ben Spencer, who got more valuable minutes with the playoffs looming for the first team.
The opening passages of the match were fast-paced, but a tad muddled with both sides feeling the other out and adjusting to the adverse weather conditions. A move in the 8th minute from Toronto saw them win a corner kick and portended good things to come.
Two minutes later Toronto would find the back of the net through Endoh.
Morgan would begin the play with a wonderful long-ball up the left-side that sprung Uccello into space. He checked wide before cutting inside to send a cross towards Spencer in the middle. The big forward got a flick on the ball, drawing a fine scrambled save out of Cincinnati keeper Mitch Hildebrandt. Hildebrandt was unable to control the rebound, and out of position was unable to recover in time, giving Endoh a welcome look at a gaping net. He made no mistake.
Another excellent sweeping move, this time up the right, saw Campbell find himself in space to deliver another blow in the 12th minute, but his square ball to the top of the area was into a crowd.
Cincinnati charged up the other end in response with Djiby Fall sending a weak shot wide of the post from the top of the box after Corben Bone drove towards the Toronto goal in the 15th minute.
The match would get a little physical, beginning with a strong challenge from Onkony on Hoyte, who sought to drive into the area from the right.
Bent had forecast a playoff-type atmosphere, and both sides, though with opposite destinies, would contest it to the utmost, including a bit of gamesmanship and some additional physicality.
Ben Spencer was shown a yellow card in the 27th minute for not retreating promptly enough, annoying Walker enough for him rifle his free-kick into the forward from mere paces. Harrison Delbridge was perhaps lucky to only see yellow for his lunging slide tackle on Campbell in the 29th minute, desperately halting a TFC counter and scything down the teenage wing-back.
Toronto would double their lead in the 31st minute when Campbell again found some room up his side to deliver a tempting ball towards the back-post. Spencer positioned himself well to cushion down a header towards Endoh, who made no mistake with his right-footed finish, though he did profit from a deflection off of Delbridge to handcuff the keeper.
Mark Pais, playing a second consecutive match, was strong in the air in the 33rd minute, coming quickly off his line to collect an aerial ball despite the imposing, lurking figure of Fall. The striker came off worse for wear in the hefty collision.
Former TFC forward Andrew Wiedeman showed some nice footwork at the top of the box to make space for a shot, but it sailed harmlessly over the target in the 36th minute.
With the clock ticking towards half, Cincinnati would get a lifeline from a set-piece – a frailty that has vexed TFC II all year long. Walker's left-sided out-swinging corner was allowed to reach Konig, who rose highest to direct a firm header towards the right-side of goal, beyond the reach of a stranded Pais.
Cincinnati nearly equalized a minute later when a ball from Bone on the left was met on the half-volley by Fall near the arc, but his effort caromed off the inside of the right-post. Konig was on hand to threaten the rebound, but the offside flag negated his efforts.
Despite having already qualified for the playoffs, a win could see Cincinnati vault up the table, ensuring a more fruitful match-up in the first round. That fact, and the competitive desire it instilled, was evident when the referee did not give any stoppage-time, drawing a storm of players and criticism his way when the whistle was blown promptly at 45.
Back for the second half, Cincinnati were clearly intent on making amends for falling behind in the opening frame.
Konig nearly provided the ammunition in the 47th minute when his right-footed drive rattled the crossbar and then hit the back of Pais as he landed, only to squirrel wide of the post for a corner kick.
That honour, however, fell to Walker two minutes later when his low drive from the top of the box found the bottom right-corner of goal. A one-two with Bone created the space for the first-time effort that left Pais stranded and the match level at twos.
The comfort of being square would not last long, as TFC II reinstated their lead in the 53rd minute through the red-hot Hundal, who scored in a fourth-straight match. Onkony sparked the play with a glorious bit of vision from a centre-back, hitting a long-ball 40 yards and cross-field into the path of the streaking Hundal down the right-channel, luring Hildebrandt off his line.
Hundal won the footrace to delicately chip the keeper, perfectly executing the difficult finish, making it look easy. It was his team-leading seventh goal of the season, setting a new high watermark for a TFC II player in a USL campaign.
Clearly unhappy with going behind again, Cincinnati looked to impose themselves on the match physically. Fall was displeased with some slight contact from Pais as the two went up once more and moments later, in the 60th minute, Konig appeared to step needlessly into Morgan, who was sent to the ground in pain, drawing Onkony into a shoving match, stepping up for his teammate.
After some stern words from the official, the shenanigans continued as Fall wrestled with Taintor for position, the latter motioning as though he caught a stray arm in the face as the former tried to shirk his coverage.
As has so often happened this season, the tide of the game turned in an instant.
Spencer began a move with a ball down the left for Uccello to chase, he eluded a challenge and curled back before playing to Morgan, who in turn went back to Fraser. Fraser spotted Spencer drifting off the back-should of the Cincinnati left-back and sailed a ball towards him.
Tyler Polak, Cincinnati's only hope, misjudged the flight of the ball, allowing it float over him, where Spencer took it down on his chest, only to slip as he sought to pounce, losing his footing and the chance in the slickness of the drenched turf.
Seconds later, Jimmy McLaughlin charged up the attacking left, driving into the area with Romeo in tow to send a ball into the middle, where Fall got ball-side on Taintor to get the necessary touch past Pais to level the match at three apiece.
Three minutes on, the turf again, with the help of a shove from Delbridge, would see Hundal lose his footing as he sought to get on the end of a long-ball forward from Taintor down the right..
No foul was given there, though, in the same minute up the other end, Onkony was called for stumbling into Kadeem Dacres. The football gods restored justice when Delbridge's free-kick went horribly high and wide, much to the delight of the rain-soaked fans.
Bent, as he had many times this season, was forced into a substitution come the 75th minute, replacing Campbell with Aidan Daniels, after the right wing-back was left clutching his right-quad.
In the 76th minute, Fall had a chance to do further damage on a very similar play to the one he scored on, but he could not make proper contact on the inviting ball from McLaughlin on the left.
Seconds after that, Daniels, having just joined the fray, got on the end of an Endoh cross from the right – the Japanese midfielder had taken up Campbell's wing-back role with the sub – at the top of the box. He managed to settle the driven ball, but could not get it out of his feet enough for a decent shot, as Cincinnati swarmed.
Spencer nearly set-up Hundal in the 77th minute with a slipped ball down the right-side of the area, but Delbridge reacted well, getting in a necessary, if dangerous, slide tackle to thwart progress to goal.
That same minute Daniels looked to thread in Spencer down the left-channel, but Austin Berry read the intent, stepping in to make the interception..
With the game opening up as it approached the final ten minutes, Cincinnati's Alan Koch went to his bench, bringing on Kyle Greig for Fall in the 81st minute and Sem de Wit for Berry, who was on a yellow card warning, three minutes later.
In between, Greig nearly found the winner, but some strong play – or, an illegal shove – from Taintor. doing just enough to prevent the striker from redirecting the ball on goal.
Cincinnati would find the breakthrough, taking their first lead of the match, in the 86th minute when Walker clipped a ball forward over the TFC II back-line. Taintor tried to flick back to his keeper, but could not get enough on it and could only watch as it fell neatly for Hoyte, who made no mistake with a clinical right-footed touch past Pais as the keeper stepped out to confront the danger.
Disappointed, Toronto would nearly concede again in the 93rd minute when space opened up for Dacres to test Pais, hitting a low, left-footed drive across the keeper having cut in on Onkony from the right. But Pais got down well with a firm hand to deny the effort.
Taintor would see a yellow card in the 94th minute for bundling over Dacres, in what proved to be pretty much the final act of the match.
With the defeat, Toronto closes their season on the back of two-straight losses, unable to maintain their club history of closing their home campaign out with a win.
Individual mistakes, set-piece frailty, the inability to capitalize on chances and the opponent making the most of theirs, themes that have run throughout the season, reared their ugly heads once more.
For all the annoyance such has caused, it has been a lot of fun following the side this season. Results do not reflect the progress that the side, both individually and as a collective, have made, the strides forward.
The USL playoffs kick off on Friday and should be very entertaining. For TFC II, who must endure a longer-than-desried off-season, the next one will be here sooner than one would think.
TFC II – Tsubasa Endoh 10’
TFC II – Tsubasa Endoh (Ben Spencer) 31’
CIN – Danni Konig (Kenney Walker) 41’
CIN – Kenney Walker (Corben Bone) 49’
TFC II – Shaan Hundal (Brandon Onkony) 53’
CIN – Djiby Fall (Jimmy McLaughlin) 66’
CIN – Justin Hoyte 86’
TFC II – Ben Spencer 27’
CIN – Harrison Delbridge 29’
TFC II – Brandon Onkony 90’ + 2’
TFC II – Mitchell Taintor 90’ + 4’
|Toronto FC II||FC Cincinnati|
|Toronto FC II||FC Cincinnati|
|Shots – 8||Shots – 25|
|Shots on Target – 5||Shots on Target – 7|
|Blocked Shots – 2||Blocked Shots – 4|
|Possession – 43.0%||Possession – 57.0%|
Toronto FC II – Mark Pais; Rocco Romeo, Mitch Taintor©, Brandon Onkony; Tsubasa Endoh, Liam Fraser, Luca Uccello, Ashtone Morgan; Ben Spencer, Shaan Hundal, Dante Campbell (Aidan Daniels 75’)
Substitutes Not Used: Angelo Cavalluzzo, Lars Eckenrode, Malik Johnson, Noble Okello, Anthony Osorio, Matthew Srbely, Malik Johnson
FC Cincinnati – Mitch Hildebrandt; Justin Hoyte, Austin Berry (Sem de Wit 84’), Harrison Delbridge, Tyler Polak; Andrew Wiedeman (Kadeem Dacres 68’), Kenney Walker, Corben Bone, Jimmy McLaughlin; Danni Konig, Djlby Fall (Kyle Greig 81’)
Substitutes Not Used: Dallas Jaye, Matt Bahner, Jose Currais Prieto, Marco Dominguez
Toronto FC II (W-L-D): 6-19-7 25pts.
FC Cincinnati (W-L-D): 12-10-10 46pts.