Shaan Hundal continued his excellent form on Friday night, scoring in a third-straight match by bagging a brace that brings his season tally to a team-leading six.
But despite his coolness in front of goal, Toronto could not overcome an early deficit as Santi Moar scored twice in a span of three minutes in the first half. Derrick Jones and Seku Conneh added singles in the second frame to round out the scoring.
Jason Bent made four changes to his lineup from the 1-0 win over Louisville City FC last Wednesday. Mark Pais returned in goal for the first time in months, while Brian James stepped into the defensive midfield role vacated by the suspended Liam Fraser. Sergio Camargo replaced Aidan Daniels in the left-sided attacking midfield position, while Daniel Da Silva made his first start for TFC II up top alongside Hundal.
With Bethlehem desperate to win and force themselves above the playoff line, they came out like a shot, exactly how Daniels and Bent had forecast they would.
Toronto native and Sigma FC product Chris Nanco was a threat up the right-side from the off, his duel with Lars Eckenrode up that side was ongoing throughout the match, but was particularly central to the action through the opening fifteen minutes.
Bethlehem were on the front foot with Nanco whistling a ball through the six-yard box in the third minute, James Chambers, the Steel captain, then had two looks in quick succession, sending shots wide of either post within a minute.
Gradually, Toronto worked their way back into the match.
As he was for much of the night, Matt Srbely was in the middle of much of the good that came their way.
In the 16th minute, Srbely played a quick ball down the right-side of Jordan McCrary to latch onto. He played a return ball towards the top of the box where several TFC II players were arriving, but failed to really pick anyone in particular out, resulting in an awkward shot from Camargo that was dragged wide of the far-post.
Two minutes later some strong interplay between Camargo and Anthony Osorio up the left-side led to another half-chance when Camargo got a return ball from a long one-two and played Hundal in down the left-channel, only for a heavy touch to allow the defenders to nullify the chance.
A minute later, Bethlehem would take the lead through Moar.
It was an odd one at that. Julian Dunn stepped up, hoping to either intercept a pass to the outside or force an offside flag on the hard-charging Moar. The flag went up, but the call was overruled by the referee, who allowed play to continue, much to the chagrin of Bent and company on the TFC II bench.
Moar took on Mitch Taintor, who did well to impede his path to goal, forcing him wide into a low-percentage area, but his hopeful left-footer took a deflection off the covering Eckenrode to bank past Pais and into the TFC goal.
Come the 22nd minute, three minutes on, Bethlehem doubled their lead, again through Moar.
A quick move, as Bent had forewarned, saw Adam Najem lay a ball down the left for Moar in transition. Caught in two minds, with two players to mark, Dunn was exposed by the rapidity of the move, granting Moar far too much time and space to whip a left-footer across Pais and into the far-side of goal.
Another three minutes on Moar nearly completed his hat-trick, sending a right-footer just wide of the right-post from the top of the box after a poor turnover.
Down, Toronto looked for a route back. Srbely found Da Silva down the right in the 27th minute and he did well in a tight space to work towards goal before attempting to play to Hundal, but it did not come off. In the 30th minute Camargo collected the ball on the left and cut in-field to find McCrary wide. The ball eventually returned to Camargo lurking at the top of the box, but his right-footer was miss-hit.
It became clear that the breaks would not fall Toronto's way when Hundal nearly stole into the area in the 41st minute from a Srbely ball, prompting an emergency defensive touch back to the keeper, Jake McGuire, who picked up the ball. TFC wanted a back-pass called, but the referee waived away their complaints.
That same minute Srbely tried to burst through a crowd and appeared to be shoved as he fell, once more shouts fell on deaf ears.
With half fast approaching, Eckenrode got in on the forward push, surging down the left to link up with Da Silva, but, much though it was fun to see, it came to nothing.
Bethlehem would close the first half with a chance to add a third when Moar moved up the middle of the park following another turnover and played into the path of Nanco down the right. He delayed and then rushed a right-footer, skewing his shot horribly wide to spare Toronto any additional pain before the half-time whistle allowed them a chance to regroup.
TFC II came out stronger in the second half with Camargo whisking a right-footer wide of the far-post having cut in from the left in the 48th minute. Two minutes later, Srbely forced an interception and laid Camargo down the left, but he could not calm the ball, settling for a corner.
From the ensuing delivery, the low ball to the near-post came back to Camargo, who picked out James at the top of the box. He met it well on the volley, but his shot was too close to McGuire to cause much trouble.
In the 51st minute Camargo read a poor short-corner play from Bethlehem to spring a counter, finding James in the middle who threaded a ball down the right for Da Silva, but he was closed down quickly by Charlie Reymann, again taking a corner as compensation.
A Hundal flick at the near-post from the ensuing corner was redirected on target, intentionally or not, by Eckenrode in the middle at point-blank range, but it too was too close to McGuire who made the save.
A minute later, Bethlehem, in their first real foray forward of the half, would add their third goal when Derrick Jones started a move, playing wide to Aaron Jones on the right. He played back in-field to Najem, who put a ball into the middle for the curling run of Derrick Jones, beating Pais with a quick shot having gotten ball side across Dunn from the back-post.
Come the 54th minute Nanco would waste another chance after Moar picked Dunn's pocket, skying an effort well off-target.
Bethlehem looked to grab their fourth in the 58th minute when Najem slipped a ball to Seku Conneh, but the big forward had broke too soon, bringing up an offside flag.
A minute later, McCrary had a good look from the right, blasting a shot to the short-side that was saved by McGuire. Srbely again was involved, as was Da Silva.
Toronto would get their goal in the 61st minute when Camargo and Osorio again linked up down the left. Forced to turn back, Osorio twisted again to shirk his marker, breaking toward the end-line to get in his cross. Hundal calmly took it down and beat McGuire with a right-footer after his initial attempt was blocked.
Da Silva then nearly made it a game in his final act before coming off, getting on the end of an Osorio cross from the left to direct a header towards goal. A touch off a nearby defender took the sting out of the header, but still prompted a nervous jumping catch from the Bethlehem keeper.
Bent would make his first move in the 65th minute, replacing Da Silva with Uccello. Brendan Burke of Bethlehem would respond a minute later, bringing Hugh Roberts on for Chambers, while Toronto's next move, in the 71st minute, saw Noble Okello make his TFC II debut, coming on for James in central midfield.
Okello's first touch was a lovely 40-yard cross-field ball; not bad for a 16-year old.
Camargo again would threaten from his station on the left, collecting the ball from Uccello to hit a right-footer from distance that strafed wide of the far-corner in the 78th minute.
And McCrary showed some good defensive nous to go with his strong attacking play, getting in a vital block on Moar's attempt that denied him his hat-trick once more.
But in the 81st minute there was nothing Toronto could do to deny Conneh, as the second phase from a corner kick saw the ball headed towards the in-form striker, who touched past Pais for Bethlehem's fourth.
Bent made his final change in the 85th minute, bringing on the hard-charging Ryan Telfer for Camargo, his impact would be felt quickly.
Toronto would pull another back in the 88th minute when Uccello played Telfer down the left. Hundal read his intent, checking his run ever so slightly to position himself for the cut-back ball, collecting it, pausing just enough to size up the situation before beating McGuire to the left-side of goal for his second of the night.
TFC II would have one final chance in stoppage-time when Hundal found Srbely wide right. He tried to loft a ball towards the back-post, but his cross/shot drifted wide and no one was on hand to meet it.
With the three points, Bethlehem would leap over three teams into sixth spot in the Eastern Conference, but with five teams separated by three points for the final four places in the post-season, there is sure to be further movement in the final two weeks of the regular season.
Toronto FC II now have a week to nurse their wounds before closing out the 2017 USL season next Saturday against FC Cincinnati at the Ontario Soccer Centre.
BST – Santi Moar 19’
BST – Santi Moar (Adem Najem) 22’
BST – Derrick Jones (Adem Najem) 53’
TFC II – Shaan Hundal 61’
BST – Seku Conneh (Santi Moar) 81’
TFC II – Shaan Hundal (Ryan Telfer) 88’
|Toronto FC II||Bethlehem Steel FC|
|Toronto FC II||Bethlehem Steel FC|
|Shots – 18||Shots – 19|
|Shots on Target – 6||Shots on Target – 6|
|Blocked Shots – 5||Blocked Shots – 3|
|Possession –56.1 %||Possession – 43.9%|
Toronto FC II – Mark Pais; Julian Dunn, Mitch Taintor©, Lars Eckenrode; Jordan McCrary, Sergio Camargo (Ryan Telfer 85’), Matthew Srbely, Brian James (Noble Okello 71’), Anthony Osorio; Daniel DaSilva (Luca Uccello 65’), Shaan Hundal
Substitutes Not Used: Angelo Cavalluzzo, Brandon Onkony, Aidan Daniels, Malik Johnson
Bethlehem Steel FC – Jake McGuire; Aaron Jones, Joshua Yaro, Auston Trusty, Charles Reymann; James Chambers©(Hugh Roberts 67’), Derrick Jones, Chris Nanco (Yosef Samuel 77’), Adam Najem, Santi Moar; Seku Conneh (Brendan Aaronson 88’)
Substitutes Not Used: Tomas Romero, Matt Mahoney, Josh Heard
Toronto FC II (W-L-D): 6-18-7 25pts.
Bethlehem Steel FC (W-L-D): 12-11-7 43pts.