Toronto FC II will look to rebound quickly from defeat with yet another match in short order against the Richmond Kickers on Wednesday at noon.
The match is a special school day affair so the stands are expected to be packed with students from local schools, who will create a unique atmosphere - albeit one a little more high-pitched than fans may be used to.
The side is coming off another disappointing result, falling 3-1 to the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Friday evening. TFC II took the lead through Luca Uccello, ending that interminable goal drought in the process, but were unable to hold on as the Rowdies surged to victory with a three-goal flurry in the waning moments of the match.
They will also be a touch short-handed, as the first team's Voyageurs Cup match in Ottawa on Tuesday stripped the side of a good portion of the regulars who have been major contributors thus far. Mitch Taintor, the TFC II captain, made his first team debut against the Fury and in all likelihood players like Ben Spencer, Oyvind Alseth, Ashtone Morgan, Tsubasa Endoh, Sergio Camargo and Ben Spencer will not be available.
That does, however, present opportunity to others.
And the side will be looking to take the positives from an excellent first half against the Rowdies and translate that into a strong finish to the three-match home stand in hopes of closing it out with a win on the back of two losses.
Whereas Tampa Bay posed a difficult prospect given their lofty place in the table – they drew level with the Charleston Battery for top spot with the three points – Richmond is a different beast.
Playing out of Virginia and managed by Leigh Cowlishaw, the Kickers are one of the longest-tenured clubs in North American soccer dating back to their founding in 1993, then playing in the USISL (the United States Interregional Soccer League).
The currently 13th in the Eastern Conference on nine points from as many matches, with a record of two wins, four losses and three draws. They have drawn their last three outings – against Cincinnati, Harrisburg, and Rochester – and are winless in four.
And they, like TFC, will be playing on short rest, with half an eye to the weekend. Richmond drew 1-1 at Rochester on Sunday – Kenardo Forbes put the Rhinos ahead in the 32nd minute, but Raul Gonzalez drew the Kickers level just before half-time. It was the first match of a three-game road week; they will continue on up the highway to Ottawa for a Saturday encounter with the Fury.
It has been a disappointing start for the side, who placed seventh in last season's competition, qualifying for the playoffs and reaching the quarter-final stage before getting knocked out by Louisville City by a 2-0 scoreline after extra time.
Though ostensibly affiliated with D.C. United – MLS watchers will make note of familiar names in their player pool such as Chris Korb, Alhaji Kamara and recent draft pick Chris Odoi-Atsem – Richmond is very much a standalone team, merely supplemented, rather than stocked, by their MLS cousin.
Their top scorer is Fred Owusu Sekyere with two goals to his name through nine matches, while a handful of others have chipped in singles.
The Kickers also have a pair of Canadians at their disposal in Mallan Roberts and Marcel DeBellis.
Roberts is a Sierra Leone-born centre-back who rose to prominence with both FC Edmonton and Ottawa in recent years, receiving a call-up to the national team against Dominica in the last qualifying cycle. DeBellis, an Oakville native, is a keeper who spent several years in the youth system at Benfica before touring around the lower leagues in Europe and landing with the Fury for the past few seasons.
Roberts has figured prominently in the side, while DeBellis is yet to factor in. Prior to his release from D.C. United, Maxim Tissot has also lined up for the Kickers this season but has now moved on to the San Francisco Deltas in the NASL.
And just to make it all a little more exciting, Canadian referee Silviu Petrescu will be officiating.
As mentioned, kick-off is set for noon and the game will be streamed on YouTube, as usual.
Just who Jason Bent will have at his disposal is a bit of a mystery with so many first teamers likely unavailable.
That said, between the USL roster and the talents eager for a chance to move up from TFC III, he will have plenty of options.
“For sure [depth will be tested],” said Bent after training on Tuesday. “Some players we've been trying to get topped up with TFC III have gotten some valuable minutes, so they could be called upon at any given time over the next couple of games in addition to some players that have been on the bench. An opportunity to step in and show their worth.”
In addition to Dante Campbell and Matthew Srbely, who were added to the player pool over the last few matches, one new name appeared ahead of Wednesday's match: defender Robert Boskovic.
Srbely spoke on Tuesday about the eventful start to the season he's had after signing with TFC III and getting closer to an early shot with II. “It's really exciting,” he said. “The opportunity was given to me at the beginning on the year.
“It's a process. I'm not going to start right away. I have to play well with TFC III, and eventually I'll make it into the lineup for II.”
Asked to describe his game, Srbely opted instead to talk about team: “I'm just a player that wants to help the team any way that I can; any ways that JB wants me too.”
It is also possible that Jelani Peters will have to miss out depending on how his hamstring has reacted to the issue that saw him leave the Tampa match prematurely.
Richmond won the last meeting between the sides but TFC has an all-time record of two wins and three losses against the Kickers, including a 1-0 win last May at the Ontario Soccer Centre.
But Bent dismissed any idea that success last season implied any this. “They're different; different seasons,” he added. “We beat them on our home ground [last year], but it's a new season, new staff, new players... we can't take too much stock in that.”
The two sides will meet again later in the season on August 19 in Virginia.
Having gone toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the league last match - if only for two-thirds of it - TFC II will be looking to use that as a springboard up the table.
The Uccello goal came as a relief, according to Aikim Andrews. “It broke the ice,” the forward, who will be eager to find the back of the net himself against Richmond, admitted.
“It's about us trying to build off the first half against Tampa, put together a 90-minute performance, try to get three points. It's a big game, the last time we played Richmond on a school day we were well supported. It gave us a push to win 1-0, so we're looking forward to the same again.”
That idea of a 90-minute performance, was the touchstone this week.
“We need to approach the game with the right mentality and perform for 90 minutes,” stressed Bent. “That's the biggest message: focus is critical. With younger pros, you sometimes see that in terms of the concentration levels. You have to be focused for the entire game. Physically you know you are going to be spent, but you should be mentally exhausted. That's the message to the players.”
“We have to start out sharp, stay sharp till the end,” explained Andrews. “You can see from the last game, only the first half we were playing sharp, but the second half [we weren't].”
Though the Young Reds are in the midst of a winless run of eight matches, having lost their last three, Wednesday will be a good chance to parlay the end of the goal drought and a strong outing into some much-needed points.
Match hashtag: #TORvRIC
Club handles: @TorontoFCII @RichmondKickers