Toronto FC II returned to their defensive roots with a scoreless draw against the Richmond Kickers on Wednesday afternoon in front of over a thousand screaming kids at the Ontario Soccer Centre.
Just days removed from that fourteen-minute spell that saw the Tampa Bay Rowdies overturn an early Luca Uccello strike, TFC leaned once more upon their defensive nous to earn a point in the final match of their three-game home stand, ending a three-match losing skid in the process.
Once more, with several players unavailable due to the first team's midweek Voyageurs Cup match in Ottawa, including captain Mitch Taintor, who made his first appearance with Toronto FC proper, Jason Bent was forced to rejig his lineup.
Two players made debuts for the side this season – Luis Pereira and Robert Boskovic – while Mark Pais returned between the posts after a strong run of matches from Angelo Cavalluzzo. Cavalluzzo did nothing to lose his spot – the three goals against Tampa Bay were hardly his responsibility, but given that Pais is the third-string keeper for the MLS side, it is crucial that he stay match sharp.
With his paperwork finally all sorted, Pereira, a Panamanian international on loan from CD Arabe Unido, got the start and was impressive. With Taintor away and Jelani Peters still nursing the hamstring injury that forced him off against the Rowdies, Boskovic took up the left-sided centre-back spot.
In fact, there were only three return starters from the Tampa Bay match – Uccello, the goal-scorer, Brandon Aubrey, and Shaan Hundal. Ashtone Morgan, Sergio Camargo, Ben Spencer, and Oyvind Alseth, as well as Taintor, were all with the first team.
Brandon Onkony slotted in along the back-line, in the right-sided role, while Ryan Telfer and Jordan McCrary took up the wing-back positions, on the left and right, respectively. With Pereira shielding the back-three, Brian James, wearing the armband in Taintor's absence, was freed up to move into Camargo's midfield role, while Aikim Andrews paired with Hundal up top.
When the action got underway, both sides exchanged half chances in the 6th minute. Richmond went first when Samuel Asante got away from a pair of Toronto midfielders to surge into the area, but the pressure from Uccello was enough to force Asante off balance and he fell before he could get off an attempt.
Telfer, who was TFC's best player on the day, surged up the left-flank shortly thereafter, flinging an inviting cross into the area for Andrews. But before the Trinidadian could direct the service on goal, Mallan Roberts, who marshalled the Richmond back-line, got a necessary touch to put off the striker.
Roberts again would need to intervene when Pereira should some nice attacking skills around the box, playing a deft one-two before looking to surge into space that was quickly filled by the hulking centre-back.
As the match settled, both Pereira and Boskovic showed no signs of timidity in their new surroundings.
Pereira, as advertized, was a tenacious destroyer, hunting down the ball at every turn and was equally sound going forward, springing a neat counter in the 23rd with a driving run before picking out the movement of Hundal who carried into the box. Hundal would touch through the legs of defender Conor Shanosky, but played heavy, the ball rolling too close to keeper Matt Turner.
Pereira showed plenty of bite too, earning a yellow card in the 27th minute with a lunging tackle on Raul Gonzalez as he sought to manoeuvre down the right touch-line.
The booking did lead to one of Richmond's better chances when from the ensuing free-kick, Gonzalez curled a ball towards the back-post where Oliver Minatel got up well to direct a flicked-header low to the far-side of goal, requiring Pais to get down low to make the save and cover.
Boskovic, an 18-year old defender with TFC III, was very tidy all match long, calmly shutting down the troublesome Gonzalez on several occasions and coolly ending a dangerous look from Minatel in the 33rd minute as Richmond looked to sweep into space on the right-side with a flowing move.
Shanosky would see yellow in the 29th minute for tripping up Hundal when beat, but Uccello's lovely delivery would go wanting, punched away by Turner.
The Kickers would turn up the pressure for the remainder of the half, requiring some fire-fighting from Pais and company.
An Asante cross from the left was met by Minatel at the near-post, but Boskovic was on hand to apply just enough pressure to force his header wide of the mark. Pais got down well once more in the 41st minute when a Gonzalez strike from the top of the arc asked questions. And from the ensuing corner-kick the TFC II keeper got a big hand on a ball directed towards goal by Chris Durkin after Shanosky headed into the middle from the back-post. Durkin paid the price for his attempt, getting clattered by Aubrey for his troubles. Pais' hand swatted away the chance and Telfer was on the spot to clear away the danger.
Having been the more dangerous of the sides in the first half, Richmond picked up where they left off in the second.
Come the 48th minute, a whipped ball from Alex Lee on the right took an awkward touch off Minutillo and rolled agonizingly wide of the right-post, as Pais, who was caught flat-footed, could only watch in hope.
TFC II would respond in the 54th minute with their best passage of play. Telfer stole up the left-side of the area with a long run before playing back to James. The midfielder played a perfect ball into the area for Uccello and his cheeky back-heel was met by Hundal's right-foot. Unfortunately, Roberts was on hand to apply the pressure, rushing the shot that sailed over the target.
That kicked off Toronto's best spell of pressure. Three minutes later a long Boskovic ball would see Andrews win a dangerous free-kick, drawing Roberts into a rash tackle as Andrews let the ball run past and looked to drift wide enough to find a gap in the Richmond defenses. From the ensuing free-kick, after Aubrey's dummy run over the ball, Pereira would send it into the wall.
But the ascendancy was short-lived, as Anthony Osorio, who replaced Andrews in the 59th minute, prompting Telfer to move up alongside Hundal, was shown a red card barely a minute after coming on.
It was perhaps a little harsh on Osorio, who felt justly aggrieved at the treatment he suffered from Lee – the Kicker lived up to the moniker, needlessly pressing his studs into the back of Osorio after the two tangled. To say it was careless by Lee would be generous, it certainly looked intentional, but Osorio's retaliatory reaction was, of course, spotted and duly punished, reducing Toronto to ten-men.
Pais would easily handle the ensuing free-kick and Toronto would state their intent with an attacking substitution in the 65th minute with Malik Johnson coming on for Boskovic, who did not put a foot wrong all match.
Pais was called upon again in the 71st minute when an Yudai Imura shot took a huge deflection off Aubrey, squirrelling towards the goal-line, but the big keeper was alert to prevent the trickler from eluding him.
Bent played his final card in the 72nd minute when Liam Fraser replaced Pereira, in a move that was most likely pre-scripted, this being Pereira's first match in some time.
Pais would make the easy save on a clean look from Minutillo after a square Imura-ball, and Toronto would go in search of a winner.
In a moment of controversy, Hundal was taken down in the area in the 78th minute, but penalty shouts were waived away. Uccello laid a ball down the right-side of the box for Hundal, who got isolated on the much larger, and slower, Roberts. He blew passed the defender on the end-line and was cut down by a big swing of the leg, but despite Bent's cries for the VAR to do their job, the officiating crew was unmoved. Post-match, Bent said that he was told the play was reviewed and there was no contact.
With the clock ticking down, Fraser would see a yellow in the 85th for kicking the ball away, eating a few precious seconds off the clock.
All told, especially given the red card, a point and a clean-sheet were hardly the worst result that TFC II could have asked for. As always, a win would have done more for their place in the standings, but with the single, though still at the foot of the table, they remain within striking distance of the post-season berths, albeit having played more matches than many of their rivals.
Bent and his charges will have little time to reflect on snapping the losing streak and reestablishing their defense-first mentality however, as they hit the road for a third match in eight days, travelling to Ohio to take on FC Cincinnati on Saturday.
TFC II – Luis Pereira 27’ (Caution)
RIC – Cower Shanosky 29’ (Caution)
TFC II – Anthony Osorio 60’ (Ejection)
TFC II – Liam Fraser 85’ (Caution)
|Toronto FC II||Richmond Kickers|
|Toronto FC II||Richmond Kickers|
|Shots – 3||Shots – 19|
|Shots on Target – 1||Shots on Target – 5|
|Blocked Shots – 1||Blocked Shots – 8|
|Possession – 37.9 %||Possession – 62.1%|
Toronto FC II (W-L-D): 1-5-4 7pts.
Richmond Kickers (W-L-D): 2-4-4 10pts.
Toronto FC II – Mark Pais; Robert Boskovic (Malik Johnson 65’), Brandon Aubrey, Brandon Onkony; Brian James©, Luca Uccello, Luis Pereira (Liam Fraser 72’), Ryan Telfer, Jordan McCrary; Aikim Andrews (Anthony Osorio 59’), Shaan Hundal
Substitutes Not Used: Angelo Cavalluzzo, Aidan Daniels, Matthew Srbely
Richmond Kickers – Matt Turner; Braeden Troyer©, Conor Shanosky, Mallan Roberts, Chris Durkin, Alex Lee (Finnlay Wyatt 82’); Samuel Asante (Owusu Sekyere 58’), Yudai Imura, Raul Gonzales; Mikey Minutillo, Oliver Minatel (Sunny Jane 74’)
Substitutes Not Used: Marcel Debellis, William Yombye, Luis Fernando,