Toronto FC II are set for the second of three-straight away matches on Saturday night, as they head south to face the Richmond Kickers at 7 pm.
On the heels of a disappointing defeat in Bethlehem last weekend, the side will be looking to bounce back from a match that got away.
TFC II went toe-to-toe with Steel FC, keeping the hosts off the scoreboard in a fractious match for nearly an hour before the breakthrough came from Cory Burke. Even then, they clawed back, drawing level from the penalty spot via Mitch Taintor after Jordan McCrary was brought down in the area, and looked the more likely to score in the final half-hour of play.
But the match turned in a moment, as Julian Dunn was called for a foul in the area, granting Bethlehem what turned into the game-winner from the spot, and all but dooming any hopes of another comeback as a mystery booking earlier saw the defender sent off.
Canadian Chris Nanco would finish off the match in stoppage-time, adding the hosts' third of the night, ensuring TFC II an eighth-straight loss on the road on a night they deserved more.
The road has not been kind to Toronto these past few months. The side began the season well, picking up a win on opening day in Phoenix, and showed glimpses, collecting difficult points in early meetings with Ottawa and Rochester. But since those May days, they have not been able to find another.
With just three away games remaining, Saturday looks a good chance to correct that record, as Richmond are the lone side below Toronto in the standings.
Playing out of the City Stadium in Richmond, Virginia, it has been a tough season for Leigh Cowlishaw's side. They have struggled to find a rhythm all season long and like TFC II have not been able to turn tight matches to their advantage.
Eleven of Richmond's wins and losses have been decided by a single goal in either direction. Add in the eight draws and the vast majority of their 23 matches have been tight, where a single mistake, or burst of quality, can prove the difference.
With a record of three wins, twelve losses, and eight draws, Richmond sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference on 17 points.
They enter the match winless in their last four and losers of their last at home – most recently against Orlando City B and Saints Louis FC – both by 1-0 scorelines.
Last Saturday it was 24th minute strike from OCB's Hadji Barry that proved the difference between the two sides:
Clearly the first goal on Saturday will be of the utmost importance.
Three quarters through the season, Richmond has just fourteen goals, equalling Toronto's lowly mark. Teams that do not have a consistent source of goals will struggle.
It is telling that the club's leading goal-scorer, Alhaji Kamara who netted four in nine, was a loanee from D.C. United, who departed for the Saudi Arabian league in June.
Raul Gonzalez has two in seventeen matches, as does Fred Owuau Sekyere in nineteen, while a handful of players have chipped in singles.
Though they have struggled of late, Richmond has picked up the majority of their points at home, winning three and drawing three, though six losses does imply that they are beatable.
That said, they do not concede easily, having allowed just 26 on the season, so expect a nervy, tight, defensive battle on the night.
Such was the fare when last the two sides met, drawing 0-0 at the Ontario Soccer Centre on May 24.
TFC were forced to navigate the final thirty minutes short-handed after Anthony Osorio picked up a red card for his reaction to being trod upon – the Kickers player involved, Alex Lee, would be retroactively suspended for his role in the fracas.
The balance in the all-time series is tipped ever-so-slightly in Richmond's favour, winning three to Toronto's two, the other match, the most recent one, ending level.
For more on the Kickers, who have two Canadians on their roster – Mallan Roberts and Marcel DeBellis – check out the preview of the previous meeting.
The match is set to kickoff at 7 pm and can be viewed on YouTube (below) or at tfc2.ca, as usual.
The Young Reds know that this weekend's match will be a tough one.
“We're expect another team that is fighting for their lives,” said assistant coach Chris Pozniak on Wednesday. “They've played all sorts of different players, trying to find a rhythm, like we are. They'll be looking for the result.”
Added midfielder Brian James: “We're expecting a battle. It's a game that we need to pick up three points in.”
And a new voice was added to the chorus last week, with 18-year old midfielder Matt Srbely making his USL debut in Bethlehem.
“We're expecting a good team, another challenge,” said Srbely. “We're working hard in training to get the three points.”
Toronto will be without the suspended Dunn this weekend, but two new names have been added to the squad list: 17-year old keeper Gianluca Catalano and forward Cyrus Rollocks.
Jason Bent will have his side up for the challenge.
Their season will be decided by the final seven matches, six of which are at home – three either side of a final away game in Harrisburg – but any points picked up in Richmond, or next weekend in Charlotte, will be gravy and set them up for that finale.
“Back on the road again; just get after it,” said James bluntly midweek.
Added Srbely: “Play like we know how to play, focus on the little details because those can cost you. Get as many points as we can.”
The message to the group, according to Pozniak, is, “it's still there for the taking”.
“We ended up in a similar position last year,” recalled Pozniak. “We were far behind, but no one around us picked up points. Had we produced a couple of results, we would have been right there in the playoff picture. This Richmond game is crucial to lead into the home stand where we have everything to play for: at home, build a little consistency; could be huge for us.”
It's crunch time. Despite last weekend's disappointment, the team has been putting in solid performances in August, taking four points from the top two in the Eastern Conference. That must continue.
Spirits are high amongst the Young Reds.
“It's a great group, always fun and laughter,” smiled Srbely. “But we know when to be serious.”
Match Hashtag: #RICvTOR