Toronto FC II's bid to extend their unbeaten run came to an end on Sunday evening as they fell 3-1 on the road to Bethlehem Steel FC.
Cory Burke opened the scoring, only for Mitch Taintor to pull Toronto level from the penalty spot. But a red card to Julian Dunn and subsequent goals from James Chambers and Chris Nanco in the last ten minutes determined the outcome.
The loss was TFC II's eighth-straight away from home.
Playing a third match in eight days, Jason Bent made several changes from the side that drew 2-2 with the Charlotte Independence on Wednesday at BMO Field.
Out went Jordan Hamilton, Tsubasa Endoh, Ashtone Morgan, and Ben Spencer, the latter of whom was the only first-teamer in the side at all, though he did not appear from the bench. Ryan Telfer took up Morgan's left-back slot, while Brian James slotted into the middle of the park in place of Aidan Daniels. Shaan Hundal, Aikim Andrews, and Malik Johnson made up an entirely new attacking three. Angelo Cavalluzzo returned in goal, playing behind an unchanged back-three of Taintor, Dunn, and Robert Boskovic.
Toronto began the match well, if a little out of sorts, limiting Bethlehem's chances while crafting a few half-decent looks of their own. Andrews found Hundal with a neat touch inside of six minutes allowing his striker partner to get down the right-side of the area, his ball in won a corner kick that was collected by Steel keeper, Jake McGuire.
McGuire was sharp again, rushing off his line, to prevent Telfer from getting on the end of a Hundal ball a minute later.
Jordan McCrary was caught by a heavy and late challenge from Burke that earned him a talking to in the eighth minute and Andrews was tripped up on a forward move in the 11th minute that gave TFC II a decent look at goal from distance. James' free-kick would not get past the wall.
As Bent foretold in the preview, Bethlehem were not shy about playing direct and Burke in particular was a threat all night. He tried to get behind Dunn in the 20th minute, going down under pressure as the two went shoulder-to-shoulder, but was not awarded for his effort. The threat was obvious; one that will be revisited.
Johnson embarked on several of his now-trademark marauding runs after an interception from James sprung a counter that ended in his ball into the area sailing too close to the keeper after Johnson had laid off a return pass having earned a lot of ground.
Another surging run from Johnson in the 26th minute allowed him to find McCrary on the right, who swung a ball into the area for a wide open Andrews lurking high-slot. The striker, however, snatched at the chance, meeting the delivery on the volley, but not managing to keep it on frame.
The match would take on a fractious nature in the 27th minute when Matthew Real thundered high and late into a challenge on James as he cleared a bouncing ball. McCrary took exception, standing up for his teammate with a shove and some undoubtedly harsh words. Both McCrary and Real were booked; their running battles would be a theme for much of the rest of the match, coming together again just three minutes later.
That seemed to spur on the hosts as in short order Marcus Epps, Nanco, and Adam Najem created chances. Epps' good forward move ended in a weak shot that was straight at Cavalluzzo, while Nanco slipped in Burke down the middle, only for an offside flag to deny him an opener. Najem slipped Burke down the right-side of the area, but Taintor recovered to force the ball out for a corner.
In the midst of that flurry, Dunn was called on to be alert, making an excellent recovery to nip the ball away from Nanco after Najem burst through the middle and sought to feed him teammate. And it was Dunn who made the clearance on the second phase of the corner kick that Taintor conceded.
Toronto would respond, James picking out Hundal with a neat pass down the right, but he could only win a free-kick. Taken by James, it was cleared easily.
With half-time fast approaching, Bethlehem were millimetres away from cracking open the match in the 43rd minute when some nice interplay between Derrick Jones and Najem played the latter into the area. A back-heeled one-two earned space for a right-footer, but TFC II closed quickly, rushing an effort that caromed off the post and back out.
Crisis averted, Toronto had a further two looks of their own before the half-time whistle. Johnson slipped a ball down the left for Hundal, but a strong recovery tackle stopped him in his tracks, while James slipped a through-ball for Hundal as he cut inside, but he could not make good contact, scuffing a right-footer weakly.
Both sides would have to be content with being level on zeros heading into the break.
The first chance of the second half would come Toronto's way when James played a ball down the right forMcCrary, who hung a cross up for Andrews near the penalty spot, but his header was sent wide of the far-post.
Another good play from Dunn in the 49th minute blocked a right-footer from Najem on the end of a pull-back from Burke who had gotten to the end-line down the right.
Dunn would be hard done by a minute later, picking up a yellow card for a supposed foul on Nanco. It was bizarre. The only angle appeared to show absolutely no contact, though it is possible a stray hand caught the attacker in the face. Whether it warranted a card, one that would have serious ramifications later, is highly debatable.
Epps would get past Boskovic down that right side in the 54th minute, sending a low shot from a tight-angle on Cavalluzzo. He made the save, but could not hold the ball, allowing Burke to slide in with a last-minute attempt, catching the keeper's hands in the process. He was shown yellow for his brashness – again, a debatable decision.
Johnson was lively again come the 56th minute, turning away from his marker in midfield and slashing towards goal to get off a right-footed curler, but the effort did not bend enough, going wide of the right-post.
A minute later Nanco went down under pressure from McCrary as he looked to surge into the area, but Bethlehem calls for a penalty were waived away promptly.
They would get their goal in the 58th minute when Nanco checked back onto his right-foot to deliver a ball into the area from the left. Burke got the required touch in the middle, guiding a right-footer to the bottom left-corner of goal, having made a yard of space off the back-shoulder of Taintor.
The flurry of cards continued in the 66th when James was shown one for taking down Derrick Jones as he burst up the left-side of the area, setting up a dangerous free-kick. Cavalluzzo caught and held the effort from Aaron Jones' tight-angled attempt straight on goal.
Bent would make his first change in the 70th minute, replacing Andrews with Matt Srbely, and within seconds TFC II would have a chance to equalize after McCrary's run was blocked on the edge of the area. There was some debate as to whether the foul was inside the box or not – the referee even sought to keep the crowd at bay with his spray as he consulted with his assistant, but after a lengthy delay, Taintor deposited the penalty kick to draw level in the 73rd minute, beating McGuire with a low, right-footer to the bottom left-corner of goal.
The penalty had come after a good period of possession from Toronto, putting their hosts on their heels. Following the equalizer, Brendan Burke, the Bethlehem coach, sought to calm his side with the introduction of their captain, James Chambers in the 78th minute.
Two minutes later Chambers had reinstated the lead, but not without a bit of help.
A quickly taken free-kick caught TFC II with numbers up-field, a ball from Nanco put Burke in behind Dunn down the left-side of the area. Toronto's teenage defender looked to pressure the attacker, losing his footing in the process and taking down Burke, who was more than happy to take advantage.
Not only was the penalty awarded, but Dunn was shown a yellow card, as well as a red – that early phantom call proving devastating to Toronto's aspirations.
Chambers' right-footer from the spot beat Cavalluzzo, who guessed in the opposite direction, nestling into the left-corner of the net.
Burke nearly added another minutes later, only for an offside flag to deny him once more.
Down a goal and a man, Toronto would not go easily. McCrary ripped a tight-angled shot on the end of a sweeping more in the 84th minute, his effort going high and wide, while Bent made his final two changes, one attacking, the other precautionary: bringing on Ricardo John for Johnson in the 85th minute and replacing McCrary with Dante Campbell in the 90th minute, with McCrary on the verge of a second yellow with the official's patience wearing thin.
Four minutes of added time would see Bethlehem pad their lead after Nanco, who had been a thorn all-match, found space to run. He burst to the right, looking to go around Boskovic before placing a slow-roller to the left-side of goal, catching Cavalluzzo flat-footed with a quick move and strike.
Whether the 3-1 win for Bethlehem was a proper reflection of the match is questionable, but either way, the three points were massive, allowing them to solidify their spot above the playoff line and putting more pressure on Toronto to make the most of their limited remaining fixtures.
An archive of the match is available on YouTube.
With the loss, Toronto remains ten points shy of that final playoff spot, though results elsewhere were kind.
Up next is another vitally important match, as the side travels to Virginia to face the Richmond Kickers, the only team below them in the standings. A big three points on the road would go a long way towards boosting their chances of making the most of having six of their final seven matches at home.
BST – Cory Burke (Chris Nanco) 58’
TFC II – Mitchell Taintor (PK) 73’
BST – James Chambers (PK) 80’
BST – Chris Nanco (Santi Moar) 90’ + 2’
BST – Matthew Real 28’ (Caution)
TFC II – Jordan McCrary 28’ (Caution)
TFC II – Julian Dunn 50’ (Caution)
BST – Ken Tribbett 57’ (Caution)
TFC II – Brian James 66’ (Caution)
BST – Derrick Jones 76’ (Caution)
TFC II – Julian Dunn 79’ (Caution) (Ejection)
|Toronto FC II||Bethlehem Steel|
|Toronto FC II||Bethlehem Steel|
|Shots – 12||Shots – 17|
|Shots on Target – 3||Shots on Target – 9|
|Blocked Shots – 3||Blocked Shots – 4|
|Possession – 45.6%||Possession – 54.4%|
Toronto FC II – Angelo Cavalluzzo; Julian Dunn, Mitchell Taintor©, Robert Boskovic; Jordan McCrary (Dante Campbell 90’), Brian James, Liam Fraser, Ryan Telfer, Aikim Andrews (Matthew Srbely 70’); Malik Johnson (Ricardo John 85’), Shaan Hundal
Substitutes Not Used: Mark Pais, Brandon Aubrey, Brandon Onkony, Ben Spencer
Bethlehem Steel – Jake McGuire, Aaron Jones, Hugh Roberts, Auston Trusty, Matthew Real; Ken Tribbett, Derrick Jones (James Chambers 78’), Marcus Epps (Santi Moar 61’), Adam Najem (Yosef Samuel 87’), Chris Nanco; Cory Burke©
Substitutes Not Used: Tomas Romero, Matt Mahoney, Charlie Reymann, Seku Conneh
Toronto FC II (W-L-D): 4-13-6 18pts.
Bethlehem Steel (W-L-D): 10-8-3 33pts.