Here’s five thoughts on Toronto FC II’s season-opening win over Phoenix Rising in the USL on Saturday.
1. Chapman is a class above
Jay Chapman was one of three players in Toronto’s lineup, along with Marky Delgado and Tsubasa Endoh, to have spent a substantial amount of time in MLS last season. All three played reasonably well and were prominent in the Reds’ best passing combinations, but Chapman stood out. He has vision and technique to rival the majority of players in the big league, never mind USL, and while he may find starts difficult to come by he needs MLS minutes, not another spell at this level, to take the next step.
It was Chapman’s through ball that sent Ben Spencer away to cross for Ryan Telfer’s decisive goal, and he also played Spencer in for the best chance of the night only for the striker to trip on the turf. The only criticism you could have of the 23-year-old’s performance would be that he has the ability to demand the ball and dominate the game even more than he did.
2. Edwards ahead in wing-back race
Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow start when fit, obviously, but in the Vancouver match Raheem Edwards demonstrated the value of having a more attacking option to bring off the bench out wide. He played a major part in Victor Vazquez’s winning goal and generally gave Toronto more speed and penetration.
Edwards and Tsubasa Endoh both fit the bill in that regard and started at wing-back against Phoenix. While both played well, the Canadian stood out. One on one, he is just devastating and his ability to wriggle away from his marker while keeping control of the ball is hard to teach.
3. Alseth has MLS potential
It’s very early days, but third-round pick Oyvind Alseth did enough right during training camp to earn a surprise MLS contract and he demonstrated why here.
The Norwegian was out of position - he normally plays right wing-back but slotted in on the right side of the back three - but has a poise about him that sets him apart. He looked more like one of the senior guys on the team, like Chapman or Delgado, than a rookie playing his first professional game.
There was the occasional bad decision or mistake with the ball in there, but Alseth is way ahead of where you’d expect him to be coming out of the back end of the draft. Brandon Aubrey, too, looked tidy and fundamentally sound defensively in the middle of the back three.
4. Lack of cutting edge evident
Telfer’s first USL goal will give him a shot in the arm and while he drifted in and out of the game at times, he did well when he got on the ball and showed plenty of effort. It’s asking a lot to expect him to score a significant number of goals this season straight out of York University, though, and TFC probably could have won this game more comfortably had they had a bit more quality in the final third.
Spencer is not unlike Jozy Altidore; he’s a big guy who can mix it aerially but also has some speed and is capable of carrying the ball and creating for his teammates. If he’s going to be impactful in MLS, however, he needs to add a killer instinct in the 18-yard box to his game. In his defence, Endoh and Edwards tended to come inside rather than supply him with crosses.
5. TFC II do the 3-5-2 better than TFC
Again, there maybe wasn’t a ton of goals in the team to make the scoreline more convincing - and hopefully Jordan Hamilton, Mo Babouli and Shaan Hundal can help with that - but Toronto pretty much dominated this game. Credit to Jason Bent for effectively organizing a starting XI that only had two returning players (Edwards and Brian James) at short notice.
Some of TFC’s passing and movement was really nice to watch, and in goal Mark Pais was not heavily tested at all on his debut. I don’t get the impression Phoenix, despite all the hype around Shaun Wright-Phillips and Omar Bravo (and maybe Didier Drogba), are going to be one of the better teams in the USL this year but the Young Reds were more fluid for long periods than the first team looked at Real Salt Lake and Philadelphia.
Chapman and Delgado added a touch of quality and experience, sure, but to look as coherent as they did with a defence built from scratch and key players in midfield and attack unavailable made for a start to the season Bent will be encouraged by.