Toronto FC II hit the road for a pair of away matches in Florida over the next four days, up first are the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday night at 7:30 pm.
One of two clubs to make the jump from the NASL to the USL, Tampa Bay will be another good test for the young side coming off a solid 1-0 opening day win in Phoenix last weekend.
The contrast in philosophies between the two sides will be stark. TFC II are a development side, though they will be reinforced this weekend with one notable veteran presence, while Tampa are a standalone club, a fact evident in their roster construction.
A week removed from sharing the pitch with Shaun Wright-Phillips, Toronto will once more faceoff against a big name from English Premier League history in the form of Joe Cole.
Backing up Cole will be a handful of players with tons of experience: German midfielder Marcel Schafer joined the club after a decade at VfL Wolfsburg, Northern Irish/English forward Martin Paterson, formerly of Burnley, similarly begins a new challenge with Tampa this year, while Scottish defender Neill Collins spent some 15 years plying his trade amongst the British leagues before making the jump to North America ahead of last season.
And there are more than a few names that will ring familiar with MLS watchers: Matt Pickens (Colorado), Deshorn Brown (Colorado), Leo Fernandes (Philadelphia), Luke Boden (Orlando), and Michael Nanchoff (Vancouver) to name but a few.
In addition, Kyle Porter, a Toronto-native, who spent time in the Whitecaps Residency before spells in Edmonton, D.C., Atlanta, and Ottawa, has linked up with the side.
The Rowdies won their first game of the season last weekend, defeating Orlando City B 1-0 on the strength of a Georgi Hristov penalty kick in the 57th minute after Orlando keeper Earl Edwards upended Fernandes in the box.
Based out of St. Petersburg, Florida, the Rowdies were revived in 2008, first taking the pitch for the 2010 NASL season, though until some licensing details were sorted, they could not use the old Rowdies' trademarks, taking to the pitch instead as FC Tampa Bay.
The original Rowdies were a celebrated member of the old NASL back in the 70s and 80s, as well as a few other leagues as those halcyon days came to an end.
The new club plays out of Al Lang Stadium, the same one where TFC played the Chicago Fire in the final match of the 2017 preseason, site of some rather scenic vistas.
The game is set to kickoff at 7:30 pm and will be available on YouTube, and long-time TFC fans will be hearing a familiar voice calling the match, as Lee Godfrey, formerly of GolTV, is one of the announcers.
Buoyed by that impressive opening day victory in Phoenix last Saturday, TFC II will be looking to put in a pair of further strong road performance before returning to Toronto for their home opener next Friday.
The group is in good spirits heading down to Florida, eager for a chance to build some of that team chemistry that is needed with a long season ahead.
“Management allowed us to go to Phoenix an extra day, which was like our preseason and helped get over the jet lag, but we also used it for a little team bonding,” said head coach Jason Bent after training on Thursday. “You need to develop relationships on and off the pitch. Being away for five, six days will allow the guys to get to know each other a little bit more. That helps. We're looking forward to it.”
Brandon Aubrey, one of three defenders who made their professional debut against Phoenix too was eager for the opportunity, with a mind on the points.
“Any time you go on the road, you get to create some bonds with your teammates,” explained Aubrey. “We're looking forward to it. It'll be a nice long trip, hopefully we can get six points out of it.”
Movies and music are packed.
The goal-scorer from the opener, Ryan Telfer, too saw the value of the group coming together: “We take the chances we have when we don't have training, go out together, get to know each other We did it last trip in Phoenix, it was a great bonding experience, had lunch, dinner, it was great.”
Telfer scored with his first-touch upon signing a USL deal last Thursday, and expects to be a contributor every match.
“[A goal a game?] I'm telling myself the same thing,” smiled Telfer. “It should be expected of me that every game I play I make an impact.”
But, eager though the players are, Bent warned that given a pair of tough road matches, it was important that “the mentality has to be right, we're going to be playing in some decent stadiums, with good, grass pitches. We need to make sure we use our strengths from the last game, but also look at their strengths, see the best approach.”
“First and foremost it's about the attitude: go there for three points in first game, three points in the second game. It's one game at a time, not trying to save yourself, in terms of energy levels,” continued Bent. “As long as we have the right mentality, we'll be OK.”
The side will still be without the services of Mitch Taintor, who is serving the final match of his suspension carried over from 2016 – he had a chance to walk the match ball out in front of the crowd at TFC's home opener on Friday night.
And most of the first teamers who featured in Phoenix – Jay Chapman, Raheem Edwards, Marky Delgado, and Tsubasa Endoh – returned to the MLS side.
But Aubrey will be with the group, as too will Ben Spencer, who was featured in a piece at USLsoccer.com this week.
While several of the TFC II players who took part in the Viareggio Cup with TFC III will be available once more, including Luca Uccello, Shaan Hundal, and Aidan Daniels. Look for Liam Fraser, who was on the bench in Phoenix, to return to the eleven as well.
In addition, a pair of players were loaned down for the trip: Jason Hernandez and Sergio Camargo.
As such the side will have a very different look, especially through the midfield and wing-back slots. That said, it will be a chance to see what more of the players in the squad can do.
After Tampa, TFC II must brace for a quick turnaround, facing Orlando City B on Tuesday night.
Match Hashtag: #TBRvTOR