Toronto FC II took the lead and then came from behind to earn a point against the Charlotte Independence at BMO Field on Wednesday night.
Once more Jason Bent made several changes to the starting lineup. Mark Pais returned in goal, while a flurry of first teamers dotted the lineup: Jordan Hamilton and Ben Spencer up top, Tsubasa Endoh in midfield and Ashtone Morgan at left-back. The side returned to the 3-5-2 formation for much of the match, with the back line of Julian Dunn, Mitch Taintor and Robert Boskovic intact.
Buoyed by the inclusions, as well as by playing at BMO Field and Charlotte's decision to rest a few of their bigger names (including Jorge Herrera and David Estrada), TFC II came out with attacking intent. In the third minute a cross-field ball found Morgan in space on the right from where he put a dangerous ball into the middle for the streaking Endoh, but it was just beyond his reach.
Four minutes later Hamilton was played in down the middle – finding a gap between the Charlotte centre-back, a scene that would emerge again and again – but he could not manage to round the keeper, Cody Mizell. Under pressure, Hamilton tried to lay off to Aidan Daniels, but his left-footer was off-target.
Hamilton would have another look come the 14th minute when Liam Fraser opened up the field with a long diagonal ball to Endoh on the right, but the striker's header went wide of the far-post.
A mistake from Dunn saw Charlotte get their first solid chance of the match in the 16th minute. The giveaway allowed Callum Ross to set up Joel Johnson, but his shot was tipped over by Pais.
Charlotte would ratchet up the pressure, sending in a free-kick in the 22nd that ping-ponged around in the area dangerously and then forced another key intervention from Pais in the 25th when he got his fingertips to a ball that bounded through the six-yard box.
Spencer's night would come to a premature end in the 27th minute when he clashed heads with Bilal Duckett in the Charlotte box after a spell of Toronto pressure. He was replaced by Shaan Hundal in the 32nd minute, but not until after TFC, down a man, crafted another fine look when Daniels slipped Hamilton in down the left-channel with a sublime ball, only for a powerful left-footer aimed to the high, short-side to sail off-target.
Having struggled for looks at goal much of the season, TFC II found them at every turn on the night. An Endoh shot from the top of the arc at the end of a counter was deflected, while Hundal got off a right-footer inside the area. It too was deflected wide.
Toronto nearly opened the scoring in the 38th minute when a tempting Daniels ball in from the right was served towards Hundal, who had gotten in behind the back-line, but as with the early Endoh chance, he could not get the required touch.
Three minutes later pressure from Morgan forced a turnover in a dangerous position, leading to another look for Hamilton, but he could not get the ball to settle and forced to rush a shot on a bouncing ball that was saved by Mizell.
A moment of miscommunication nearly proved costly in the 42nd minute when Dunn and Daniels did not connect, leading to a turnover. Casey Townsend profited, getting a look at goal, but Pais was equal to the effort.
Toronto would close the half strong, with Jordan McCrary having a crack from a tight angle and Hamilton sending a flicked header at the near-post wide on the end of an Endoh corner.
Attacking the South End in the second half, Toronto would take the lead in the 49th minute through Hamilton.
Daniels intercepted a poor pass out the Charlotte back, twisted up a pair of defenders and worked into position to get a shot. At the last minute, however, the ball was nicked away from him, but he regained possession and found Endoh in the middle. Confronted by several defenders, Endoh slipped wide left to Hamilton and his left-footer eluded the keeper to settle in the back of the net.
TFC II nearly added a second in the 52nd minute, Hundal sending a quick shot high and wide of the top right corner from the left of the arc after a neat Hamilton flick played the ball into his path.
In search of an equalizer, Charlotte would increase the pressure at the other end, with a series of corners that drew some strong defending out of the Toronto back-line; Boskovic in particular was solid.
McCrary would have another look in the 57th minute, passing up the inside run of Endoh to ripple the out-side-netting with a blistering shot.
Charlotte's coach, Mike Jefferies would go to his bench twice on the hour mark, bringing on both Herrera (in the 57th minute for Townsend) and Estrada (in the 60th for David Spies).
Big guns inserted, it was a bizarre goal in the 62nd minute that provided the equalizer. A ball swung in from a tight-angle on the right by Johnson seemed to be of little threat. Estrada was lurking, but Taintor was on hand, tracking his movements. But when neither got a touch on the delivery, it eluded Pais, redirecting off his leg to find it's way into the net.
The match would take another turn three minutes later with Donnie Smith thundered unnecessarily into a challenge in the Toronto half, catching McCrary late and high as both slid into a challenge. He was a shown a red card with only the humblest of protestations.
Just three minutes into the man advantage Toronto would find another lane to assault the Charlotte goal. Dunn made a wonderful touch to strip Herrera in the TFC box, allowing McCrary to move the ball out to the touch-line. His ball up the line found Hundal for a graceful touch and turn away from the bamboozled defender, allowing him to streak in clear on goal down the right-channel.
A slightly heavy touch as he approached the box tightened the angle a little more than Hundal would have liked and Hamilton was a tad slow to make the run on the other side, allowing Mizell to make the save on the hard, low shot, negating the chance.
That right side would see the crafting of another opportunity come the 71st minute when good interplay from Endoh and McCrary found Hundal in the area with his back to goal. Rather than turn, Hundal laid-back to Hamilton at the top of the box, but his right-footer was underhit and saved.
Charlotte made their final substitute in the 72nd minute, replacing Bilal Duckett with Austin Yearwood, and Bent went to his bench for the second time, replacing Boskovic with Brian James, intent on taking advantage of their numerical superiority and controlling the midfield.
Another quick break from TFC II in the 76th nearly broke the deadlock when Endoh played James through – the extra man proving useful, but he could not get the ball to settle, was forced to delay and then rush his shot as the defense collapsed.
Estrada would issue a warning at the other end a minute later, kissing the outside of the far-post with a low shot from the right-side of the box.
TFC II's attacking intent and wasteful finishing would be punished in the 79th minute when a clinical Independence counter sprung Jaime Siaj down the left. Dunn tried to close, but the attacker's angle was too precise, allowing him clear on goal. Opening up the hips, Siaj placed a right-footer past Pais to give the ten-man side a late lead.
Bent would make his final change in the 84th minute, bringing on the tricky Malik Johnson for Daniels, who had put in a shift.
With the clock ticking down, the match got a little scrappy. Estrada was booked, as was Fraser, while the Charlotte keeper saw yellow for time wasting, taking a stroll to high-five a teammate rather than restart with a semblance urgency.
A massive tackle from Dunn kept the match close and further blushes were spared in stoppage-time when a bouncer from Herrera went wide.
Three minutes were all that were allotted at the end, but only two were needed to TFC II to find their equalizer.
A searching ball from Fraser deep found Hamilton on the right-side of the area. He took it down with his chest and turned away from pressure to set up space for a curling shot that picked out the bottom left-corner of the Charlotte goal, clawing back a valuable point for Toronto on a night where they may have deserved more.
Two matches, against the then-leaders of the Eastern Conference, and TFC II emerge with four points. Were they more precision on the finish and that cross been dealt with, or not allowed in the first place, it could have been more.
With ten matches remaining, Toronto have moved within nine points of the red line. Ahead lie three tricky road fixtures, away to Bethlehem Steel FC, the Richmond Kickers, and a rematch against Charlotte, but the confidence gained from these two results make that run less daunting.
A result or two would be useful, keeping the gap from reopening too much, but the balance of their season will depending on how they close the year, where six of their last seven are at home, including another trip to BMO Field, against New York Red Bulls II on September 9.
It's all to play for. Up next: Bethlehem on Sunday.
TFC II – Jordan Hamilton (Tsubasa Endoh) 49’
CHAR – Mark Pais (OG) 62’
CHAR – Jamie Siaj (Henry Kalungi) 79’
TFC II – Jordan Hamilton (Liam Fraser) 90+2’
CHAR – Donald Smith 65’ (Ejection)
CHAR – David Estrada 85’ (Caution)
TFC II – Liam Fraser 88’ (Caution)
CHAR – Cody Mizell 90+1’ (Caution)
|Toronto FC II||Charlotte Independence|
|Toronto FC II||Charlotte Independence|
|Shots – 18||Shots – 11|
|Shots on Target – 6||Shots on Target – 4|
|Blocked Shots – 3||Blocked Shots – 2|
|Possession – 48.0%||Possession – 52.0%|
Toronto FC II: Mark Pais; Julian Dunn, Mitchell Taintor ©, Robert Boskovic (Brian James 74’); Jordan McCrary, Liam Fraser, Aidan Daniels (Malik Johnson 84’), Tsubasa Endoh, Ashtone Morgan; Ben Spencer (Shaan Hundal 32’), Jordan Hamilton
Substitutes Not Used: Angelo Cavalluzzo, Brandon Aubrey, Dante Campbell, Ryan Telfer
Charlotte Independence: Cody Mizell; Donald Smith, Bilal Duckett © (Austin Yearwood 72’), Henry Kalungi, Joel Johnson; Callum Ross, Jun Marques Davidson, David Spies (David Estrada 60’), Jamie Siaj; Yann Ekra, Casey Townsend (Jorge Herrera 57’)
Substitutes Not Used: Kainoa Likewise, Lewis Hilton, Luke Waechter
Toronto FC II (W-L-D): 4-12-6, 18 pts.
Charlotte Independence (W-L-D): 11-3-7, 40 pts.