Toronto FC II saw their struggles in front of goal continue on Saturday evening, falling by a single goal to FC Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium in Ohio.
With just three goals through 11 matches, Jason Bent acknowledged prematch that while the side has not had much luck, one needs goals to win games. Looking back over the season, the majority of games (eight of 11) could have been swayed by a single goal. That itself is a sign of progress for a team that conceded by the barrel-full last year, but it does raise the question of how different the season would be looking, and their place in the standings with it, if the occasional stroke of luck, a deflection, or an opponent’s error had fallen their way.
Playing their third match in eight days, Bent made several changes to the starting XI. Mitch Taintor returned from first-team duties, as did Sergio Camargo and Oyvind Alseth, displacing Robert Boskovic, Luca Uccello and Jordan McCrary respectively. And Malik Johnson was reinserted into the lineup, paired up top with Shaan Hundal.
Keeper Mark Pais and Luis Pereira retained their starting positions.
Toronto started well after a brief pause when Austin Berry took a Ryan Telfer punt in a sensitive spot, showing some positive play in the fifth minute when Hundal worked past two defenders on the right to drive towards the end-line, but he ran out of space before he could send a ball into the box.
But with the crowd on their side, Cincinnati quickly put themselves in the ascendancy, calling on Pais to make several interventions in the opening 10 minutes: Corben Bone got down the right side of the area to send a cross into the middle that was caught by Pais and Jimmy McLaughlin laid a ball behind the back line for Danni Konig, only for it to run heavy to the keeper.
The match would turn come the 17th minute with a seemingly innocuous clash of heads between Brandon Onkony and Konig. Both would receive treatment, with Konig exhibiting a cut above his eye.
A minute later the ball was in the back of the net through Konig, who got behind Onkony to nod in, unmarked, at the back post. Tyler Polak on the left side delivered an inviting ball towards the far side, where Konig eluded Onkony to put the home side ahead. That there was visible blood seeping through the bandage on the forward's brow, asking the question of whether he should have been allowed to return to play, was a minor annoyance.
Disappointed, but not a side to show discouragement, TFC II looked to make immediate amends, requiring a perfect intervention from Harrison Delbridge, who timed his sliding tackle precisely, to prevent Hundal from surging into the area on the end of an Onkony ball down the left side.
In the hot and humid conditions, Toronto had the look of a team playing for a third time in the week and less than fresh after travel. They were a step slower than Cincinnati, who impressively moved the ball with pace, probing and asking questions.
Down a goal, TFC II sought a route back. Some good interplay between Alseth and Hundal saw the striker stab a right-footer towards goal. Alseth's deep cut left a pair of defenders in his dust, opening up a lane to feed into the area for Hundal, but Cincinnati keeper Mitch Hildebrandt was equal to the effort.
Toronto were forced into an early substitution come the 33rd minute when Onkony, still feeling the effects of that clash, took a knee. He was replaced by Boskovic. Once more, an injury would limit Bent's ability to impact the match with his full slate of subs.
Hundal nearly levelled a minute later when he glided past two defenders into space down the left side of the box, but with the angle a little tight and Hildebrandt looming large, he could only find the outside netting.
As the half approached, Cincinnati looked to double their advantage with stretches of attacking possession, culminating in a glorious chance in the 39th minute from a corner kick. McLaughlin delivered the ball from the left and it was met in the middle by Konig, who, after a late touch altered the trajectory, could only get his knee on the service, the ball bouncing high over the bar from yards out.
The combination of the heat, the travel, the schedule, and Cincinnati's very physical play was starting to show on Toronto, the byproduct was that the home side closed the half with the lion's share of possession. Still, despite buzzing around the area and moving the ball easily, few real chances materialized.
Deep into first-half stoppage time, Ryan Telfer embarked on one of what are quickly becoming his signature runs, picking up steam from the left wing-back position, cutting into the middle and asking questions of the opposition. Unfortunately, as he wound up to strike, the ball bobbled, his foot getting under it and the shot rocketed high and wide in the 48th minute.
Cincinnati would take their 1-0 lead into the locker rooms at half-time.
When play resumed, the home side were again the more energetic of the two, but between Toronto's refusal to bend and Cincinnati's imprecision, the threat would pass.
Boskovic, called into emergency duty, was again tidy, though he was turned by Kadeem Dacres in the 48th minute. Toronto's set-piece defending was strong, Brian James in particular exhibiting a knack for clearing corners. And when under pressure from second balls after the initial phase, as when Aodhan Quinn picked out Delbridge with a cross in the 49th minute, Cincinnati was wasteful: the header off target.
Snatching at chances was a recurring theme to start the half; Dacres himself would find a route to goal after a cheeky back-heel opened a lane, but he dragged his shot harmlessly wide of the post in the 50th minute.
Having survived that push, Toronto came to life in the 52nd minute. James sent Telfer down the left, but his cross was deflected out for a corner kick. From the ensuing Camargo delivery, Alseth reached behind him to get a touch on the ball, popping it up for Pereira, who sent a drive towards goal. It was blocked on the line by Polak and cleared.
Johnson then tried a cheeky lob in the 55th minute, placing it perfectly under the bar from wide and from distance, but Hildebrandt had time to recover to his line and make the catch.
Cincinnati would still find their chances, such as when Brandon Aubrey was called upon to end a dangerous move that sought to play Konig down the right side of the box, but Toronto looked the side more likely to score, if they had a little bit of luck, through the final half hour.
That kind of late kick, from a side battling, was rather impressive.
Aiden Daniels would replace Johnson in the 62nd minute; TFC legend Andrew Wiedeman, too, would enter from the bench. The extra body in midfield seemed to make a difference for TFC, though with the Young Reds pushing forward, space would open up for Cincinnati to seek to seal the result.
But Toronto could not catch a break. Further evidence of the lack of luck came in the 63rd minute when Hundal did everything right, latching onto a Camargo ball to break in alone. His shot beat the keeper, but caromed off the right post. Millimetres the difference between an equalizer and frustration.
Cincinnati would test the defence at the other end, drawing an essential header out of Aubrey that prevented Bone from picking out Konig, and forcing Pais to rush off his line to hault a slaloming run from centre-back Berry.
With McCrary coming on for Taintor in the 68th minute, TFC picked up the pace even more, Alseth slotting into the back three and adding another attacking threat up the right-hand side.
Boskovic again would make a key intervention in the 75th minute when a McLaughlin ball from the left picked out the diagonal run of Konig, but the young defender got the necessary touch to cut out the danger.
As the match entered its final 10 minutes, the conditions were wearing on the players – Hundal was seen stretching out his hamstrings, cramp setting in. Counter-intuitively, the game would open up a fair bit.
Camargo drove into the area in the 83rd minute, dishing off to Telfer on the left, but his return ball into the corridor behind the back line and in front of the keeper was beyond the reach of both Camargo and Daniels on the far side.
Cincinnati would do their utmost to waste time as the clock ticked down, slow-subbing and milking every stoppage to the max, but come the 93rd minute Toronto would have one final chance.
McLaughlin hauled down Alseth as he made progress up the right flank, setting up a dangerous set-piece opportunity.
Pereira stood over the ball, shaped to bend a left-footer into the line of players formed in the heart of the box, but instead began a training ground move that saw him swing a low ball to Daniels well above the arc. Daniels chipped it forward into the mass of bodies.
James looked to be the target, going up with the Cincinnati keeper to get the touch. The ball would drop into the crowd, but the chance was gone, as the referee whistled for a foul.
Adding a moment of levity, Hildebrandt appeared to lose his contact in the maelstrom, but as his restart would be the final kick of the match, it mattered not.
Though the defeat was unwelcome, extending the winless run to 10 matches and the road goal drought to a ludicrous 480 minutes, there was plenty of encouragement to take from the effort and the way TFC II overcame the conditions and circumstances to keep the opposition honest at their ground.
TFC II now have six days to recover from this difficult month and prepare for next Friday's match away at Saint Louis FC.
CIN – Danni Konig (Tyler Polak) 18’
CIN – Harrison Delbridge 27’ (Caution)
CIN – Aodahn Quinn 36’ (Caution)
TFC II – Oyvind Alseth 84’ (Caution)
|Toronto FC II||FC Cincinnati|
|Toronto FC II||FC Cincinnati|
|Shots – 12||Shots – 7|
|Shots on Target – 3||Shots on Target – 3|
|Blocked Shots – 3||Blocked Shots – 1|
|Possession – 46.4%||Possession – 53.6%|
Toronto FC II (W-L-D): 1-6-4 7pts.
FC Cincinnati (W-L-D): 4-4-3 15pts.
FC Cincinnati – Mitch Hildebrandt; Matt Bahner, Tyler Polak, Austin Berry ©, Harrison Delbridge; Aodhan Quinn (Marco Dominguez 70’), Daryl Fordyce (Andrew Wiedeman 62’), Corben Bone; Danni Konig, Kadeem Dacres (Paul Nicholson 90+2’), Jimmy McLaughlin
Substitutes Not Used: Dallas Jaye, Justin Hoyte, Cristian Martinez, Victor Mansaray
Toronto FC II – Mark Pais; Mitchell Taintor © (Jordan McCrary 68’), Brandon Aubrey, Brandon Onkony (Robert Boskovic 33’); Oyvind Alseth, Ryan Telfer, Luis Pereira, Brian James; Sergio Camargo, Malik Johnson (Aidan Daniels 62’), Shaan Hundal
Substitutes Not Used: Angelo Cavalluzo, Aikim Andrews, Luca Uccello, Liam Fraser