Two matches remain for Toronto FC II on the season.
Eliminated from playoff contention, the side will look to close out the campaign on a high, much as they did last season.
With both upcoming opponents still in the running, TFC II will relish the opportunity to play spoilers in the coming weeks.
“For sure [it's extra motivation],” said Aidan Daniels from training on Wednesday. “We were in this position last year and finished the season strong. It's always good to get points off teams still fighting for the playoffs.”
Head coach Jason Bent admitted there was a little bit of pleasure to be had in spoiling for others, but stressed: “We're more focused on our own performance, trying to finish the season on a high. We know that against some of the top teams in the league, we've either split games or taken four points.”
“Our focus going into this game is we've played Beth Steel twice this year and we've lost both, although we played well,” continued Bent. “We want to correct that, make sure we finish on a winning note; build some confidence here at the end of the season.”
They will close the year on October 15 with a home date against FC Cincinnati, but up first is a third-meeting of the year against Bethlehem Steel FC.
Coached by Brendan Burke, Beth Steel enter Friday night's match in ninth-place in the Eastern Conference, a single point behind New York Red Bulls II, who hold the final berth, with a game in hand – a win would thrust them into the playoff places.
On 40 points from 29 matches, Bethlehem have a balanced record of 11 wins, the same number of losses and seven draws. A goal-different of zero further enhances that symmetry, having scored and conceded 41 goals.
Entering the match, Beth Steel are in good form, having shared the points in each of a home-and-away series with the Tampa Bay Rowdies in recent weeks.
On August 27 in Bethlehem, Georgi Hristov gave the visitors the lead from the penalty spot in the 36th minute, only for Cory Burke to level in the 46th minute. Hunter Gorskie then reinstated Tampa's advantage, only for Seku Conneh to tie it back up in the 78th minute.
Three days later, in Tampa, Conneh again scored, putting the visitors ahead, but Sebastian Guenzatti came off the bench to level in the 80th minute.
Those two draws extended Bethlehem's unbeaten run to five matches, four of which have been drawn.
With an away record of five wins, six losses, and three draws, Bethlehem are no slouches on their travels. Though unbeaten in three away, all draws, they have not won on the road since the start of August, when they defeated Ottawa Fury FC, a span of five games.
Having met twice already this season, Toronto knows what they are up against come Friday night.
“They're so quick in the transition,” warned Bent. “[Chris] Nanco; [Seku] Conneh on decent form. They're very quick on the counter, so we have to be super organized when we have the ball. When we do give it away, our recovery, tracking the opponent, and managing the depth and space behind us will be critical.”
“They will be well up for the game,” added Bent. “Trying to create that playoff-type atmosphere for themselves. It's a win or die situation. A desperate team can be dangerous. We have to make sure we're fully focused for the match.”
Said Daniels: “We're expecting them to come out hard. They're fighting for the spot in the playoffs. We expect a high press all game. We're looking forward to it.”
Both sides will be a little short-handed as a player on each side is suspended for caution accumulation. TFC II will be without the services of Liam Fraser, who was named to the most recent Team of the Week, while Burke will be out for Beth Steel.
Burke has been a thorn in TFC II's side this year, scoring in both previous meetings.
He is joint top-scorer at the club with Conneh, each having scored nine in 22 appearances. James Chambers is second with five, while Nanco and Santi Moar have netted four apiece.
Burke's absence is a pleasant bonus for Toronto.
He scored the 8th minute penalty kick back on May 13 that led to a 1-0 Bethlehem win at BMO Field in the first meeting, while he also opened the scoring in the second meeting on August 13th in Bethlehem come the 58th minute.
Mitch Taintor would level from the penalty spot in the 73rd minute after Jordan McCrary was brought down in the area, but Julian Dunn was shown a red card and Chambers converted the penalty kick in the 80th minute before Nanco capped off the 3-1 win with a 92nd minute coup de grace.
By winning both meetings this season, Bethlehem have levelled the all-time series, each having won twice in the four encounters.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 pm at the Ontario Soccer Centre in Vaughan. The match will be stream at YouTube (below) and on tfc2.ca, as usual.
Toronto enters the match still riding high off the back of a 1-0 win over conference leaders Louisville City FC last Wednesday.
Shaan Hundal scored the game's only goal, his second in as many matches, as TFC II's impressive output against the class of the league continues.
That win snapped a four-game winless and three-game losing streaks. A win on Saturday could move their home record into balance. A modest step forward.
On 25 points from 30 matches, TFC II have shown this year that desperate the lack of results, they are no pushovers.
Burke, the Bethlehem coach, knows that danger lies overconfidence, telling BethlehemSteelFC.com: “It’s always a danger to underestimate a team that sits below you in the table.”
“We don’t have that luxury,” continued Burke. “Which is great from my standpoint because our players know that we can’t afford to underestimate anyone in these last three games and need to take maximum points from every game that we can. I think Toronto does an excellent job and with their first team off this week, you could see some heavy hitters in the match.”
That final added caution is worth noting.
Clint Irwin's name has appeared on the USL squad list, though it may have been there before. In addition, Noble Okello is listed as well, and could make his debut with TFC II this season fresh off signing a professional deal.
Daniels, a midfielder who has impressed in recent weeks was asked what he wanted from these final two matches.
“Two wins,” was his response. “It's the last two games of the season, we're all on a high from beating Louisville. We want to finish these last two games strong, come out with a smile on our face.”
Match Hashtag: #TORvBST