Welcome to Toronto, where the action never stops.
It has been quite the month for Toronto FC. The first team has been on a tear and while TFC II may not be putting up the numbers of their senior counterparts, they have been going almost stride for stride in terms of the number of matches crammed into May.
While not as strenuous as the first team's 10 matches in a little more than a month, TFC II will be playing their fifth game of May on Saturday and their third in eight days. Add in those at the end of April and the start of June, and their seven matches over the same period is a challenge.
Having seen their shutout and unbeaten runs ended, TFC II got back to their defensive roots on Wednesday with a 0-0 draw against the Richmond Kickers in the conclusion of a three-match home stand. They now hit the road for the first of two tricky fixtures before returning home for two more come June.
In this weekend's opponent, FC Cincinnati, Toronto face one of the teams they are chasing for a playoff position come the end of the season.
Cincinnati currently occupy seventh place in the Eastern Conference with a record of three wins, four losses, and three draws through 10 matches, good enough for twelve points. TFC II have played the same number of matches, winning once, losing five, and drawing the other four for a total of seven points. A gap is starting to emerge between the pack near the playoff spaces and those at the bottom of the table. This weekend is as good a time as any to put themselves back into the reckoning.
And they face Cincinnati in the midst of a difficult spell.
Having collected six points from their first four matches, Cincinnati struggled through a five-match winless streak. Draws at home against the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Louisville City gave way to a road defeat to Bethlehem Steel FC. They picked up a point as their travels took them to Virginia to face the Richmond Kickers, but back home the following week they fell 2-0 to Orlando City B.
Despite those less than ideal results, Cincinnati only lost twice in the slide. And they are coming off a solid victory over Bethlehem last weekend, winning 2-1 at home on the strength of a Danni Konig brace.
TFC II are also coming off a decent result, securing a 0-0 against Richmond despite playing short a man for half an hour. That draw ended a three-game losing slide, though the side remains winless in nine, dating back to the season opener in Phoenix.
Led by manager Alan Koch, FC Cincinnati were found in 2015, playing their first USL season the following year, where they finished third in the East before reaching the conference quarterfinals.
The match will be played at Nippert Stadium, where the club hosts some massive attendances by USL standards. They set a new USL record in last season's playoffs with over 30,000 in attendance, and marked a regular USL record for their home opener, where over 23,000 passed through the gates.
That attention has raised the possibility of Cincinnati being a strong candidate for MLS expansion.
Koch, a South African, will not be unfamiliar with the Canadian side he faces this weekend. Having spent time at Simon Fraser University and with Vancouver Whitecaps FC's second team in USL, he knows that despite TFC II's lowly rank, they are not to be taken lightly.
Speaking with the club website, Koch said: "We look forward to playing a young and talented Toronto team this Saturday. We are aware that they have numerous talented players in their club and look forward to embracing whoever they select for this game.”
And he has an eye for talent: he was reportedly instrumental in the drafting of Tim Parker, handing the big centre-back his debut with VWFC2 in USL.
Cincinnati is packed with players familiar to MLS watchers. Unaffiliated, but with players on loan from Columbus and Seattle, they are a mix of those who never quite made it, despite obvious talent, and a few older, bigger names winding down their careers.
First and foremost, former TFC striker - and, according to Paul Mariner, “one of the best finishers in the modern era” - Andrew Wiedeman plys his trade for the club. He scored against TFC II last season and will be looking to do so again on Saturday.
Austin Berry (Chicago and Philadelphia), Jimmy McLaughlin (Philadelphia), Corben Bone (Chicago), Tyler Polak (New England), Kenney Walker (Los Angeles), and Omar Cummings are some of the names that were prominent in MLS circles. Victor Mansaray and Cristian Martinez are on loan, from Seattle and Columbus respectively.
They also have a pair of players listed as Canadians on the USL roster. Marco Dominguez is a midfielder from Montreal who last played for FC Montreal and has featured for the Canadian national team in the youth programs. Mele Temguia is a German-born defender who spent several years in the Montreal Impact’s academy. Both made the move to Cincinnati in the off-season when FC Montreal was folded. Dominguez is yet to feature, while Temguia has seen limited minutes.
Along with Cummings, a former Jamaican international who had an excellent career in MLS with Colorado and Houston before moving on to San Antonio and Cincinnati, the club has some Premier League pedigree in Justin Hoyte, an Arsenal trainee who spent a good portion of his career with Middlesbrough.
The club's top scorer is Djiby Fall, who has six goals in as many matches, but he will be suspended for Saturday. He was handed a six-match ban and fined for what was termed 'major game misconduct'; he was accused of biting an opponent in the 1-1 draw against Louisville City back in April.
That leaves Danni Konig, who nabbed the crucial brace against Bethlehem on the weekend as the top goal-getter in the group, with two in six appearances.
Cincinnati won both meetings between the clubs last year, each by a 2-1 scoreline, in April at Toronto and at home in June. Wiedeman and Cummings provided the goals on the road, while Eric Stevenson and Harrison Delbridge did so at home. Raheem Edwards scored both of TFC II's goals.
The match is set to kick off at 5pm ET, and can be streamed on YouTube at the link below:
Toronto will be without the services of Anthony Osorio, who will be serving a suspension for his red card against Richmond midweek.
But they could welcome back captain Mitch Taintor to the fold after his strong outing for the first team in Ottawa last Tuesday.
It is unlikely that Ben Spencer or Jordan Hamilton will be with them as both figured in last night's win over Columbus. But none of Sergio Camargo, Ashtone Morgan, Jay Chapman, or Oyvind Alseth were in the 18, so they could be making the trip.
If Jelani Peters has overcome his hamstring issue he could slot back into the back line, but Robert Boskovic was very impressive in his outing last match so there is no need to rush Peters back and risk re-injury.
And it will be interesting to see if Jason Bent stays with Mark Pais in goal or goes back to Angelo Cavalluzzo, who was so impressive when Pais was with the first team. Either way, keeping the ball out of the net will not be the problem.
As Bent noted post-match, whereas last year it was conceding that was the issue, it is scoring goals that has been the side's Achilles' heel this season.
“You keep working on it at the training ground and hope someone is going to step up at a certain moment in the season,” said Bent. “If I'm honest we haven't really had much luck, but sometimes you have to make your own luck. The clean-sheets are a positive, but we know that if we don't score goals we're not going to win games. We've only scored three goals in 10 games. That's not good enough. We have to keep working at it, stay positive. I woke up this morning thinking as soon as we score one, the floodgates are going to open, but unfortunately it didn't happen.”
Perhaps Saturday is the day that it all comes together for TFC II.
Following the match in Cincinnati, the club will have a week off to rest and reassemble before hitting the road again next Friday for a contest against Saint Louis FC.
Match Hashtag: #CINvTOR