Toronto FC II fell by a score of 4-3 to the visiting Harrisburg City Islanders at the Ontario Soccer Centre in Vaughan on Saturday evening.
It was another tough day at the office for TFC II. Looking to respond from the 6-1 thumping suffered at the hands of Eastern Conference leaders the Charleston Battery last weekend, Jason Bent and his side took to the pitch with a mission to make amends.
Bent made several changes to the starting eleven: Mark Pais took up the goalkeeping reigns from Angelo Cavalluzzo; Brandon Onkony returned from injury at the left centre-back spot in place of Robert Boskovic, and Dante Campbell got his first start, replacing Jordan McCrary at the right wing-back position. In addition, Aidan Daniels was inserted into the lineup, taking up the left-sided attacking role in the front three, in lieu of Sergio Camargo.
There were two themes evident from the start of play. First, that Toronto were going to be more physical in this match than they had been pretty much all season – there were some early crunching challenges. And second, that in their haste, a little precision would be sacrificed.
The emphasis on those facets led to some nervy early moments, best exemplified by Pais whiffing on the clearance of a Liam Fraser square ball inside of two minutes. It skittered through the goal-mouth before being cleared. No trouble, but a sign of missed connections.
Harrisburg nearly capitalized on the next bit of miscommunication and imprecision when Pedro Ribeiro was played down the left-side of the box by James Thomas in the 8th minute. Pais came up with the big leg save on the initial shot, but left the rebound in a dangerous spot, allowing Thomas to pounce and send and effort goal-ward. He woefully missed, sending the shot past the left-post, sparing any early blushes.
Toronto would settle those early nerves to craft a few good chances of their own, the best of which came in the 14th minute when a long Mitch Taintor ball sprung Luca Uccello down the right. He played on to Campbell, who in turn picked out Brian James in the middle. James deftly played into the path of the charging Fraser, who attempted to walk through the Harrisburg back-line, but to no avail. It was a well-worked, sweeping move.
Fraser would catch Rasheed Olabiyi with an errant elbow as he held him off, halting play for a few moments as the opponent got treatment before leaving the match, replaced by Paul Wilson. Fraser would see a yellow for his carelessness.
The physical play would prove costly in the 22nd minute when Onkony was whistled for a foul on the edge of the box when his arm caught Thomas trying to sneak behind to latch onto a long ball. As the clock ticked over Ribeiro stood over the free-kick on the right-corner of the area to send a dipping left-footer over the wall and across the face of goal.
Pais, who was caught inching to his left, was forced to switch directions, preventing him from getting enough force on his touch to send the ball wide. Harrisburg took the lead from one the keeper would no doubt want back.
TFC II would respond almost immediately from a set-piece of their own. Campbell was fouled about thirty yards out on the right-flank, allowing Uccello to swing a ball into the area. His inviting delivery in the 28th minute was met by the run of Taintor, who guided his volleyed finish past Brandon Miller in the City Islanders goal with a deft right-footed touch to level the score.
But three minutes later Ribeiro again would prove the difference marker. Managing to barely keep a ball down the left-flank in, he burst past Brandon Aubrey, who had assumed a restart was coming, surging to the end-line around the slowed defender to pick out Jake Bond who arrived unmarked at the back-post for a simple right-footed finish.
Onkony nearly replied two minutes later when his header from a free-kick whisked just wide of the post and Toronto would get their equalizer in the 35th minute through a nice bit of unselfish interplay.
Daniels moved in-field from the left to find Uccello moving in from the other side. Uccello immediately played down the left-channel for Aikim Andrews, who controlled the ball before returning the favour, finding Uccello in space with the net gaping for an easy right-footed tap-in.
That interplay in attack is something that had been lacking from Toronto all season, forward efforts looking more like individuals than a cohesive. No coincidence that this recent run of goal-scoring – the side finally scored more than one in a game and netted for a fourth-straight – has coincided with more teamwork.
Pais made amends for his earlier misread with a fine stop on Wilson, diving to direct his shot from distance wide. At the other end, his opposite, did the same, coming up with a massive save on Ryan Telfer's left-footed drive when a searching Andrews ball, after good interplay with Campbell, made it's way to the back-stick from the right in stoppage-time.
Level at the half and cheered on vociferously by the mini-Ultras, who kept up the support all match long, TFC II could take positives from finding the back of the net, creating chances with purpose, and responding to twice going behind.
The City Islanders third goal, however, would be much more difficult to stomach.
Thomas, who was a thorn in the side all match, found Jake Bond for a low stinger of a shot that Pais could only redirect, once more into a dangerous spot in the middle of the area. Under pressure, Aubrey attempted to send it wide of the far-post for a corner, but got his foot stuck in the turf and could only redirect it onto his shin, bundling it over the line for a heart-breaking own-goal in the 48th minute.
Ten minutes later, Harrisburg landed the dagger. Ribeiro and Thomas' interplay at the top of the box sent Toronto's back-line into a scramble. Both Aubrey and Taintor were dragged towards Ribeiro moving from right to left, before he neatly found Thomas going the other way. His shot was saved by Pais, but the rebound fell kindly to Wilson on the right for an all-too-easy right-footer into the open net. Onkony, responding to Thomas' clear path had drifted in, opening up the outside lane.
The frustration was palpable, with Taintor growling at his teammates after being forced to step into midfield to commit a foul a minute later.
Bent would go to his bench in the 62nd minute, bringing on Ricardo John for Daniels. And Pais would be called upon again to save his team, pushing a shot over the bar, when Thomas on the right found Danny DiPrima on the far-side for a left-footed effort.
Julian Dunn would make his debut for TFC II in the 72nd minute, coming on for Aubrey. Taintor moved into the middle of the back-three, opening up the right side for the newcomer.
More unselfishness in attack would see Toronto pull-back within one in the 74th minute with Andrews scoring the goal, his first of the season and first for TFC.
And it came from more excellent passing: Fraser got on the ball near the centre-circle, spotting John in position to pressure the Harrisburg back-line. The fit-again attacker neatly cut inside past Thiago Calvano to open up a lane to goal, but rather than force a shot with the defender collapsing, he neatly played to Andrews in space on the right for a thumping right-footed finish blasted past Miller for Toronto's third of the match.
The game within reach, Bent sacrificed defense for offense in midfield, replacing Fraser with Malik Johnson.
Chances would come. An Uccello free-kick in the 79th minute squeezed through the wall and dribbled just wide of the far-post, while some good forward momentum from Johnson found Andrews on the right. The goal-scorer clipped a ball into the middle, but Miller was able to scramble and catch on the doorstep.
Deep in stoppage-time Johnson himself would find a half-chance when the ball fell to him in the area for a right-footed shot, but his attempt sailed wide of the top right-corner.
Time would run out before Toronto could find a deserved equalizer.
It was a familiar refrain for TFC II, playing much better than the result indicated. For once they made the most of the chances they created, though they still gifted too many to the opposition, for which they were repeatedly punished.
A missed opportunity to make up some ground on an opponent within reach – Harrisburg moves five points clear of the Young Reds with the win – but having gotten a taste for the back of the net can only prove a good thing for the side as they look to battle for their season over the coming weeks.
Toronto FC II are back in action next Saturday at the Ontario Soccer Centre with the second-ever USL Battle of Ontario against Ottawa Fury FC. With the big club on a Gold Cup break, there is no excuse to not make it up to Vaughan for the match. Be there.
HAR – Pedro Ribero 23’
TFC II – Mitchell Taintor (Luca Uccello) 28’
HAR – Jake Bond (Pedro Ribero) 31’
TFC II – Luca Uccello (Aikim Andrews) 35’
HAR – Brandon Aubrey 48’ (OG)
HAR – Paul Wilson 58’
TFC II – Aikim Andrews (Ricardo John) 74’
TFC II – Liam Fraser 15’ (Caution)
HAR – Tiago Calvano 60’ (Caution)
HAR – James Thomas 78’ (Caution)
|Toronto FC II||Harrisburg City Islanders|
|Toronto FC II||Harrisburg City Islanders|
|Shots – 11||Shots – 9|
|Shots on Target – 4||Shots on Target – 8|
|Blocked Shots – 1||Blocked Shots – 0|
|Possession – 56.1%||Possession – 43.9%|
Toronto FC II – Mark Pais; Mitchell Taintor©, Brandon Aubrey (Julian Dunn 71’), Brandon Onkony; Ryan Telfer, Brian James, Liam Fraser (Malik Johnson 77’), Luca Uccello, Dante Campbell; Aidan Daniels (Ricardo John 62’), Aikim Andrews
Substitutes Not Used: Angelo Cavalluzzo, Robert Boskovic, Andrew Dias, Matthew Srbely
Harrisburg City Islanders –Brandon Miller; Shawn McLaws, Abass Mohammaed, Travis Brent, Tiago Calvano©; Rasheed Olabiyi (Paul Wilson 20’), Danny DiPrima, Mouhamed Dabo; Pedro Ribero (Lee Nishanian 79’), Jake Bond (Cardel Benbow 74’), James Thomas
Substitutes Not Used: Sean Lewis, Griffin Libhart, Ropapa Mensah, Michael Olla
Toronto FC II (W-L-D): 2-9-5 11pts.
Harrisburg City Islanders (W-L-D): 4-7-4 16pts.