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Toronto FC II to offer glimpse of the future in BMO Field doubleheader

Reds fans have a unique opportunity to look into what is in the pipeline on Saturday.

TFC II Fraser rides a challenge in Tampa
Fraser refuses to give in to the powerful Rowdies in Tampa
M. May

What's better than a soccer match on a Saturday afternoon?

That's easy: two of them.

This Saturday, fans who trek to BMO Field for Toronto FC's match against Minnesota United at 3pm are invited to stick around for TFC II's encounter with Bethlehem Steel.

The USL match will kickoff at 6pm, so there will be a small lull between the action, but there are plenty of reasons to wait.

TFC II have been fun to watch this season. They may be sitting near the bottom of the USL table, but that does not reflect the improvement they have made from last year to this.

They put in an impressive away performance on opening day in Phoenix, winning 1-0 to spoil their opponent's home opener.

The ensuing Florida away trip was tough, with heavy losses to Tampa Bay and Orlando, but since those two matches - in which they conceded seven goals - they have been a much sturdier prospect, laying a defensive foundation for the long campaign.

The Young Reds followed up those setbacks with a trio of 0-0 draws that have been anything but dull.

The match against the Rochester Rhinos was a bit of a chess match before coming to life in the final half hour, while the gritty draw in Ottawa - a preview of this month's Voyageurs Cup meeting between TFC proper and the Fury - had plenty on offer and came to a wild conclusion.

And as for the one in Louisville, well, the performance of goalkeeper Angelo Cavalluzzo alone was worth the price of admission – even if it hadn’t been free.

TFC II have not scored a goal in four matches but on a big stage on Saturday, they will be extra excited to get out there and shine in front of their home fans.

This match kicks off a three-game home stand for TFC II. It has been an odd season for them so far in terms of scheduling – long road trips and intermittent spells of fixture congestion have been mixed with lengthy breaks. This next run marks the start of a much more regular fixture list, of one or two home, then a few away. Expect the defensive solidity established on the road to be translated into a more complete game as the season rolls on.

It can be difficult to get up to Vaughan, so Saturday's doubleheader offers a chance to scout the next generation of TFC players.

Fans have seen in recent weeks how well the likes of Raheem Edwards and Jay Chapman, two players who point to their time in USL as a stepping stone to MLS success, have taken their opportunity with the first team.

Last season Jordan Hamilton and Mo Babouli provided further evidence of the value of TFC II. Time may have run short for Babouli, who left the club, but Hamilton - who is a candidate to start on Saturday - is working to make sure that when his number is called, he is ready.

Aside from those who have already graced the MLS pitch, there are numerous players on the cusp of the first team.

Sergio Camargo was signed to a homegrown deal in the off-season and is yet to see his first MLS minutes but, in a handful of appearances with TFC II, has shown himself to be an intriguing attacking prospect. Expect to see him pulling the strings on Saturday.

Liam Fraser, too, is a player with a lot of upside, leading the academy side that turned heads in Italy at the Viareggio Cup. His defensive prowess and ability to arrive in a timely manner to snuff out opposition chances has to be seen to be believed. And his passing, switching the play from one side of the field to the other, is evidence of the tutelage he has received from Benoit Cheyrou and Michael Bradley.

Saturday will be the first chance to see him stride about at BMO Field, but likely not the last.

In years past, players selected in the lower rounds of the draft would disappear by the time training camp ended, drifting away from the club without a place to develop. That pattern has changed with TFC II, where players like Brian James, Mitch Taintor, Oyvind Alseth and Brandon Aubrey have been given a chance to continue progressing with regular matches at the professional level.

James is a confident midfielder; tidy on the ball, strong in the challenge. Taintor, the club captain, is a rock at the back, ever-present with key interventions. There is something wondrous about seeing a centre-back stride out of the back on the ball with confidence, as Taintor does on occasion.

Alseth caught the eye in preseason with his calm demeanour and general football nous. Whether playing in the back three, at wing-back or in midfield, one can see why Greg Vanney and company considered his selection late in the draft such a steal.

Aubrey, too, was not expected to be available when TFC stepped to the podium to make their selection. He erred in preseason against Chicago when given a chance, a turnover leading to a Fire goal, but the progression seen from him through seven matches with II has been impressive. He organizes the back three and has been pivotal in the shutout streak that ended with the 1-0 defeat in Pittsburgh – a match that required the most superb of strikes to prove the difference.

Then there is the flurry of homegrowns coming up through the system. Luca Uccello is lively and energetic, Malik Johnson a devastating dribbler with a good finish and Anthony Osorio - the middle of the three brothers - a wide player who patrols the left flank, gets forward well and delivers excellent service.

Of the even younger cohort, 18-year old Aidan Daniels and 17-year olds Shaan Hundal and Dante Campbell are ones to watch over the coming years.

In addition, the club is stocked with internationals hoping to cut their teeth and develop into first-team players. The Trinidadian duo of Aikim Andrews and Jelani Peters have both been excellent, Andrews a driving second striker and Peters a no-nonsense defender. Their countryman Ricardo John is an entertaining forward, audacious in his attempts and tenacious in attack.

Luis Pereira, a Panamanian destroyer and metronome, is yet to feature but sounds promising, while Brandon Onkony, though still ridiculously young, has shown his quality.

The side has also added some depth in positions that the first team may be lacking it. At right-back, Jordan McCrary has grown more comfortable with every match, looking like a he would be able to step up should Steven Beitashour need an emergency stand-in. Ryan Telfer, a local boy, has excelled both as a striker and a winger, all size and speed tearing through opponent's soft flanks en route to goal.

Furthermore, with the game at BMO Field and the pitch being the quality that it is, it may be a chance for Ashtone Morgan to get his feet back under him upon return from long injury layoff.

Do not be too surprised if he, or some other first teamers - Ben Spencer in particular, who recently inked a first-team deal - get the nod on Saturday.

All that is to say that when given the opportunity, one should not sleep on the Young Reds. It is from here that the next incarnation of TFC will be born.

There is an old line of pride amongst football fans the world over, a game that supporters play with each other: “I saw him when...”

Saturday is a chance to craft those tales.

Please leave your comments and question on the season so far in the section below and the WTR staff will respond in kind.