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Toronto FC II 2017 USL season preview

Expect to see plenty of first-team and academy players mixed in with the second side’s regular squad this year.

Liam Fraser Toronto FC II Martin Bazyl / Toronto FC

Year Founded: 2015

Affiliation: Toronto FC

2016 record, place in Conference standings: 7W, 18L, 5D – 26 pts; 12th in the East

2016 playoffs: N/A

Key additions: GK Mark Pais, GK Angelo Cavalluzzo, D Jordan McCrary, D Lars Eckenrode

Key departures: GK Quillan Roberts*, D Skylar Thomas, D Wesley Charpie, D Clement Simonin*, MF Chris Mannella*, MF Adam Bouchard, MF Sal Bernal, MF Raheem Edwards (signed by first team), MF Bubacarr Jobe (loaned to Skovde AIK in Sweden)

* = departed players who were on MLS contracts with TFC

Projected/ideal starting XI (3-5-2): Mark Pais; Mitchell Taintor, Lars Eckenrode, Brandon Aubrey; Jordan McCrary, Luca Uccello, Liam Fraser, Brian James, Anthony Osorio; Ricardo John, Shaan Hundal.

NB: this lineup relies primarily on players signed to TFC II contracts, aside from Aubrey.

2016, their second year in USL, was another challenging season for TFC II, though they did manage one more win and an improvement to their goal differential in comparison to their inaugural campaign.

Head coach Jason Bent is tasked with the unenviable challenge of cobbling together a cohesive side while accommodating players from both the first team, coming down to get minutes or rehab injuries, and the academy, providing a chance for young talent to sample the professional game.

As such, the club is a bit of a crossroads; a small core group of players supplemented by a rotating cast of others from either direction. Witness the state of the roster on the eve of the opening match of the season: TFC II currently lists just 14 players, two of whom are goalkeepers and another, Bubacarr Jobe, who is out on loan.

Further complicating matters is that following the departures of Quillan Roberts, Skylar Thomas, Wesley Charpie, Clement Simonin and Chris Mannella, a key group of defensive-minded players, there is only a single defender left from last season - Mitch Taintor, who is suspended for the first few matches of the campaign following a fractious encounter with FC Montreal last August.

Why you should watch TFC II in 2017:

With the depth stockpiled at the first-team level, TFC II will be the primary place to see the next generation of TFC players get extended minutes as they battle for spots in the starting XI and on the bench.

The likes of Jay Chapman, Raheem Edwards, Marky Delgado, Jordan Hamilton, Sergio Camargo, Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh, as well recent draft picks Brandon Aubrey, Oyvind Alseth and Lars Eckenrode (signed to a TFC II contract), may see more minutes in the USL than they do in MLS, at least for the foreseeable future.

Those acquired by other means - as external signings or in earlier drafts – including Brian James, Taintor, Ben Spencer (once his contract status is sorted), Mark Pais, Jordan McCrary and Ricardo John should have prominent roles with the side as they continue to strive for a first-team spot.

In addition, TFC II is where the next crop of homegrown players – Liam Fraser, Luca Uccello, Aiden Daniels, Anthony Osorio and Malik Johnson, to name but a few – will continue their development en route to the main club. Greg Vanney has spoken very highly of what he sees progressing at the USL level: do not be surprised if today's II is tomorrow's TFC.

And then there is the even younger talents, like Shaan Hundal and Ayo Akinola, of whom fans can get a first glimpse.

Three players to watch: Liam Fraser, Shaan Hundal, and Luca Uccello

Fraser is a solid defensive-minded holding midfielder with the vision and poise to open up a match from his deep-lying position. Having spent much of the preseason with the first team, Fraser captained the side that represented TFC at the prestigious Viareggio Cup in Italy this month. Do not be surprised if he is wearing the armbrand with TFC II this season. As an understudy to Michael Bradley and Benoit Cheyrou, Fraser is one to watch.

Hundal, still just 17 years old, was joint-top scorer with six goals for TFC II in 2016, equalling the output of Edwards, who made the jump to the first team this offseason. Quick, powerful, and a polished finisher who excels at finding space and chances, Hundal, still learning how best to use his talents to effect and will be looking to build on his strong debut season in USL.

Uccello, another member of the highly touted midfield quartet at TFC II last season that also included Fraser, Brian James and Aiden Daniels, is an energetic, crafty midfielder, excellent in the link-up and always looking for spaces to drive forward. He's been with the club since 2011 and, like both Hundal and Fraser, has been a regular in various Canadian youth international sides. He will turn 20 this season and will be looked to for a leadership role alongside Fraser in the middle of the park.

The 2017 season will be a success if...

More players end up signing to the first team come 2018 and the first teamers that rotate to USL are able to contribute to TFC when called upon.

Ideally, TFC II would love to see progress on the pitch – winning is always good, at every level – but the primary objective of the side is further developing players for the main club while helping TFC achieve its goals of the Supporters’ Shield and the MLS Cup.

When Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and Clint Irwin went down with injuries last season, it was the likes of Hamilton, Babouli, Chapman and Alex Bono who stepped into those roles with vital performances that pushed the side to the playoffs.

That is part of the pipeline structure that is being developed; success at the first-team level depends on the flow established below, but it does come at a cost to the consistency of the USL program.

Read More:

Additional coverage ahead of their opening match of the season on Saturday will be forthcoming post haste!

Viareggio captain Fraser could be TFC's next signing

Edwards signed to first-team contract by Toronto FC

Simonin released by Toronto FC after preseason trial

TFC Talk: Jason Bent, from student to teacher

TFC II schedule introduces BMO Field double headers with first team

Toronto FC take four more players in MLS Draft

What does the USL & NASL's Division II status mean?

Toronto FC select Aubrey with 21st pick in MLS Draft

Toronto FC sign Camargo to homegrown deal

First-round pick Thomas among out-of-contract Toronto FC II players

TFC II players recall their favourite moments in 2016