Toronto FC II's struggles in front of goal continued on Friday night as the side lost a second straight match on the road, falling 2-0 to Preki's Saint Louis FC.
It was a strange match in many ways.
The peculiarities began from the start, when moments before kickoff it was announced that Liam Fraser would be replacing Brandon Aubrey at centre-back. Fraser, a midfielder, dropped into Aubrey's central role in the back-three, acquitting himself well out of position.
There were three other changes from the starting eleven that took to the pitch in Cincinnati: Aikim Andrews paired up top with Shaan Hundal, in place of Malik Johnson, Robert Boskovic started ahead of Brandon Onkony, still dealing with the effects of the head injury that forced him out prematurely last match, and Jordan McCrary made a debut in the back-three, replacing Mitch Taintor on the right-side – Brian James wore the captain's armband in Taintor's absence.
When the match kicked off, it began at a lightning pace, both sides thundering into the action. Saint Louis' physicality marked the early seconds, picking up several fouls, which would not have displeased Preki, but Toronto held there own, dishing out a bit of similar treatment – though Oyvind Alseth suffered the brunt of the impact, twice down for extended spells after crunching challenges.
TFC would have a few early looks. A shot from distance set the tone in the 3rd minute, while their high press led to a turnover in a promising position, but Alseth's ball forward was intercepted at the last moment in the 8th minute. Seconds later, Hundal stole down the right-side of the box, but with no support quickly ran out of space as the defense swarmed.
Saint Louis would respond with moments of their own. A Sebastian Dalgaard ball into the middle was cut out neatly by the back-line in the 9th minute, while Christian Volesky was dispossessed in the 10th by a nice step from Boskovic from the phase after the home side's first corner kick of the night – corners would play a significant role on the night.
Andrews rose up to meet a Sergio Camargo ball from the left with a strong header, but given the distance to goal – he was nearer the top of the area than the net – it was easily caught and held by the keeper, Devala Gorrick.
A bad Toronto turnover in their own third required some mopping in the 17th minute. It led to Boskovic getting nutmegged by Wes Charpie on the flank, but Luis Pereira was on site sharp to put the danger out for another corner.
And Ryan Telfer was up to his usual craft, bursting up the left, eating up acres of ground before delivering a cross that came too early – there were scant targets in the box – and was overhit.
Saint Louis' third corner come the 23rd minute would open up the match, as Emir Alihidivoc's left-sided, in-swinging delivery would sail to the back-post where it was met by AJ Cochran with a lunging header. His effort found the bottom right-corner of goal, granting the hosts a 1-0 advantage.
They nearly doubled their lead three minutes later when a strong run up and cut in from the right saw Volesky play in-field, teeing up a sitter for Dalgaard, but he mercifully dragged his shot wide of the right-post.
Undeterred, Telfer got a quick shot from the top of the box in the 27th minute that required an intervention from the Saint Louis keeper – he seemed to jam his hand in the process, requiring a moment before play could resume.
Whereas corners proved a source of threat for Saint Louis, Toronto was far too wasteful from theirs, often failing to beat the first man at the near-post, allowing easy clearances. Without any particular size to pick out – most of the potential targets being absent centre-backs – the tactic made sense, look to get the ball into a congested area and pounce on the droppings, but it rarely worked.
They would seek to mix it up – changing takers from Camargo to Pereira – and playing a low ball to the top of the box to change angles, but neither proved fruitful.
Mark Pais, playing once more in his hometown, was forced off his line quickly in the 33rd minute to deny Volesky after Jose Angulo poked him in behind the back-line, foreshadowing things to come.
With half-time approaching, TFC II would go in search of an equalizer. A good one-two between Camargo and Hundal was cut out by a strong tackle and Saint Louis defender Erick Cabalceta would time his intervention to perfection in the 39th minute when Camargo cut in from the right and touched into the path of Hundal, his sliding challenge took the ball off the foot of Hundal as he was preparing to shoot from close range.
A Telfer ball into the area in the 42nd minute caused some nervous moments for the home side before being cleared, kick starting another spell of TFC pressure. It was finally relieved when James' blast from distance caught Cabalceta in the face, halting play as the defender received treatment.
It was a half of good energy from the Young Reds, especially given the disparity in action between the two sides this month, but there was scant connection when looking to move the ball or maintain possession, individuals moving in isolation or in pairs, rather than the side as a whole.
Four minutes after the restart, Saint Louis would seal the result, Volesky pouncing onto a ball clipped behind the back-line by Angulo and touching over Pais with his right-foot – the attacking duo had been singled out prematch by Jason Bent as a threat, and their warning on the half-hour mark had not been sufficiently heeded.
Toronto sought to respond immediately, nearly doing so in the 54th minute when Andrews lofted a ball into the area, prompting the keeper to try to collect. He could not and the loose ball fell to Pereira. He placed his left-footer on target, but Saint Louis right-back Aedan Stanley was in place to rise up and head away the sure goal.
It was the second time in as many matches that Pereira had a goal-bound effort cleared – TFC II just cannot catch a break.
Tefler was perhaps the most consistent threat on the night, regularly finding joy down his flank, such as in the 60th minute when he fought down the left to get off a shot – it too was deflected out for a corner.
The Anthony’s Espresso Equipment Man of the Match is Ryan Telfer. pic.twitter.com/A7NBnKj1ga— Toronto FC II (@TorontoFCII) June 3, 2017
And Charpie proved a thorn in his former team's side, nipping the ball off the boot of Hundal two minutes later after James cut into the area and sought to pick out his teammate.
Toronto, pressing forward, would be kept on their toes. A mix-up between Pereira and Boskovic allowed a shot that sailed off target, while Alseth and Fraser came up with big plays to twice deny Volesky from finding space.
The first TFC II substitution would see Johnson replace Hundal in the 70th minute. Johnson showed off his exception close control four minutes later, tiptoeing around one defender in the area before reinforcements forced him too close to the end-line and the attack fizzled.
Bent would take his final roll of the dice in the 76th minute when Luca Uccello and Aidan Daniels replaced Pereira and Camargo, respectively.
Telfer would send in another lovely, dangerous ball in the 79th minute, but it was cut out – not that it mattered, as nobody was there to get on the end of it anyways.
The remainder of the match would pass without major incident – Charpie whipped in a ball that caused some trouble, while Telfer had yet another shot deflected – and after four minutes of extra time, Saint Louis would celebrate the end of their five-match winless run with the 2-0 result.
Set-pieces playing a role, another Pereira effort cleared off the line, Toronto out-shooting their hosts (12-7 in shots, 5-3 in shots on target), and the fact that Saint Louis' goals came from their first two shots on goal, all contributed to a difficult result.
TFC II could have been better – they were disjointed, a step slow and a yard imprecise – but on another night, some luck would have come their way and fostered a different result. Yet, the winless streak rolls on.
With their marathon month now complete, the side has eight days ahead of their next match against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds next Saturday in Vaughan, the first of two in quick order at home.
STL – AJ Cochran (Emir Alihidivoc) 23’
STL – Christian Volesky (Jose Angulo) 49’
STL – Jose Angulo 64’ (Caution)
|Toronto FC II||Saint Louis FC|
|Toronto FC II||Saint Louis FC|
|Shots – 12||Shots – 7|
|Shots on Target – 5||Shots on Target – 3|
|Blocked Shots – 4||Blocked Shots – 1|
|Possession – 50.4%||Possession – 49.6%|
Toronto FC II (W-L-D): 1-7-4 7pts.
Saint Louis FC (W-L-D): 4-3-3 15pts.
Toronto FC II – Mark Pais; Jordan McCrary, Liam Fraser, Robert Boskovic; Ryan Telfer, Luis Pereira (Luca Uccello 76’), Brian James©; Sergio Camargo (Aidan Daniels 76’); Oyvind Alseth, Shaan Hundal (Malik Johnson 69’), Aikim Andrews
Substitutes Not Used: Angelo Cavalluzo, Dante Campbell, Brandon Aubrey, Matthew Srbely
SAINT LOUIS FC – Devala Gorrick; Wesley Charpie, Aedan Stanley, AJ Cochran, Erick Cabalceta; Emir Alihidivoc, Tony Walls, Sebastian Dalgaard (Denis Ahmetovic 77’), Dragan Stojkov©, (Octavio Guzman 70’); Jose Angulo (Tyler David 64’), Christian Volesky
Substitutes Not Used: Adam Grinwis, Ryan Howe, Austin Ledbetter, Matt Sheldon