Toronto FC II got their 2017 USL season off to a marvellous start on Saturday night with a 1-0 win over Phoenix Rising FC in Arizona.
Ryan Telfer, signed on Thursday out of York University, scored the only goal of the match in the 8th minute, capping off a fine passage of play. Jay Chapman threaded a ball down the left channel for Ben Spencer, who cut back to find Telfer on the edge of the six-yard box.
Telfer, who turned 23 at the start of March (correction: an earlier edition stated Telfer turned 24, appears as though the math, which is hard, was wrong, apologies), showed excellent composure and no small skill with his sliding right-footed finish past a helpless Josh Cohen in the Phoenix goal.
Phoenix looked to equalize immediately, with left-back Victor Vazquez sending in a cross that was met at the back-stick, only for Shaun Wright-Phillips' header to sail over the target.
Following that brief spell, TFC II's wing-backs took over the match. Raheem Edwards on the left and Tsubasa Endoh on the right, were virtually unstoppable, having their way with the Phoenix defenses. Edwards roasted Kody Wakasa, twisting him into insignificance in the 30th minute and Endoh was a terror up the right with his aggressive, attacking play, making space for a shot himself, cutting in across the top of the box before slicing his shot off-target.
Phoenix would survive a series of half-chances while searching for an equalizer. Their best look, aside from the early header, came in the 33rd minute when Mike Seth found space for a look down the left, but his attempt from a tight angle could not find its mark.
And there was a Phoenix shout for a handball in first-half stoppage time, but it was waived away dismissively.
As at the start of the match, Phoenix came out on the front foot, pinning TFC II back for the first ten minutes of the second frame. A Vasquez drive from the corner of the area was perhaps their best look, either taking a deflection or requiring the finger-tip of Mark Pais to miss the frame.
But as the half wore on, TFC II regained their comfortable posture, containing Phoenix's pressure and finding chances for a second goal.
Chapman, in quick succession, twice found Spencer with delicious passes. On the first, a lack of support and quick defensive retreats from Phoenix curtailed the opportunity, while on the second Spencer was in alone, touched past the keeper, only to lose his footing on the newly-laid grass at the desert oasis.
With the hour mark, the first series of substitutions began, TFC II coach Jason Bent, very much going like for like. Jordan McCracy came on for Endoh in the 63rd, Brandon Onkony replaced Lars Eckenrode in the 70th, and Ricardo John entered in the 87th minute, replacing the debutant goal-scorer, Telfer.
As time dwindled down, the match got a touch more fractious, prompting the referee to show three yellow cards: first to Phoenix's JJ Greer for a hard and late challenge on Telfer (64th), then to AJ Gray for wrestling Chapman to the ground (82nd), and finally to TFC II's Onkony, impeding the run of Gray, with whom he had an ongoing battle through the final moments. The 19-year old defender may have escaped a booking, had he not previously introduced himself to Omar Bravo with a firm tackle moments after entering the fray.
Phoenix had one final chance as full time neared, when Allesandro Riggi scythed down the left-side of the box and hung up a ball for Jason Johnson, only to see his near-side header directed across the face of goal and wide of the far-post.
Bent and company, in particular the back-line three of Brandon Aubrey, Oyvind Alseth, and Eckenrode, who all made their professional debuts, Telfer, the goal-scorer, similarly debuting, and Brian James, who captained the side and was instrumental in TFC II's midfield dominance, should be very proud of a superb opening display.
TFC II return to the pitch next Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, for the second of three-straight road matches that begin their season. They then face a quick turnaround for a Tuesday night match against Orlando City B before returning to Toronto for their home opener on Friday, April 7 against the Rochester Rhinos.
WTR will have more coverage of both the first match and those upcoming in the next few days.