Toronto FC II pulled off a massive comeback on the road Saturday night, coming back from two first half goals with three in a seven-minute span after Charlotte's Alex Martinez was shown a red card following an altercation with Jordan McCrary.
Enzo Martinez and Jaime Siaj had put the Charlotte Independence ahead, but Ashtone Morgan, Ben Spencer, and Jordan Hamilton responded, earning TFC II a big three away points before returning home to finish the regular season with six of their final seven matches at home.
Once more, Jason Bent shuffled his lineup.
On the back-line Ashtone Morgan came in on the left-side of the three, swapping Brandon Onkony over to the right, while in midfield Tsubasa Endoh displaced Matt Srbely alongside Malik Johnson. Up top, Ben Spencer lined up along Jordan Hamilton, in place of Shaan Hundal, reprising the partnership that was cut short in the last meeting with Charlotte at BMO Field.
Toronto were nearly undone early as right-back Joel Johnson slipped a ball down the channel for the on-rushing Enzo Martinez, who was a threat all night, in the 5th minute. Blushes were spared by the offside flag, but it was a sign of things to come.
Johnson was again instrumental in attack for Charlotte, getting forward in the 9th minute to send a ball into the area. Fortunately for TFC II, Onkony was alert, able to get the needed touch before Siaj could pounce on the inviting delivery.
There was a tense moment in the 12th minute when both Mitch Taintor and Siaj went down in tangled near the centre-circle, the Toronto captain was down clutching his knee, but was able to continue, after receiving a yellow for his troubles.
The free-flowing Independence attack was a constant concern through the opening twenty minutes. Enzo Martinez was played down the left in the 14th minute, but the flag was a saving grace once more, while David Estrada nearly broke in alone after blocking a pass out of the back from Taintor in the 18th minute, but the rebound trickled back to Angelo Cavalluzzo in goal.
Enzo Martinez did get past Morgan seconds later to get off a low shot, but it was saved by the Toronto keeper. A minute later Austin Yearwood found himself in space on the left for a shot, but sent his effort wide of the far-post.
Martinez again worked down the right in the 20th minute to get off a shot from a tight-angle that brought further palpitations, but Cavalluzzo was on hand to get the needed touch.
A minute later, Toronto would not be so lucky.
Lewis Hilton played to Siaj in the middle, who touched for Enzo down the right-side. Taintor had tracked the movement of Enzo, but Martinez was able to ditch his mark with some strong, stretch control, before putting a low right-footer past Cavalluzzo to the far-side of goal. It was a well-work, patient build-up from the Independence.
Enzo nearly linked up with his brother Alex to craft a second in the 24th minute, the former working down the right-side of the area before finding Alex with a pull-back, only for his shot to sail over the goal.
Toronto snapped to life for a moment – Hamilton had a low shot from range that went wide, Endoh had a look from distance, and Ben Spencer nearly pounced on an interception to break away – but it was Charlotte who would find the second.
Bilal Duckett's long ball out of the back found Siaj streaking down the right and he cut inside to line up a left-footed shot. His effort took a deflection off Morgan to handcuff Cavalluzzo as he went to his left and the ball went right.
Toronto would again look to respond, earning a few corner kicks in the process, but they seemed short on ideas and the offside flag would be needed again in the 42nd minute when Johnson was played down the right again by Estrada.
Onkony, as he said prematch, was sharp, making several key defensive plays, including one in the 42nd minute getting a needed clearance of some danger, but Hilton, who sent in the initial ball, was on hand to collect the loose ball, prodding another ball into the area, though Cavalluzzo was alert to cut it out.
Half-time could not come soon enough, or so it seemed.
A deep free-kick was sent towards goal by Endoh, his curling effort nearly sneaking in at the back-post untouched – shrewd from the midfielder to make sure his delivery was inside the posts for that very purpose. Charlotte keeper Cody Mizell was alert to scramble and push it wide.
And from the ensuing corner Hamilton was twice denied by the Charlotte keeper after Taintor knocked down the delivery – a sublime double-save from Mizell.
As if to restate their dominance, Charlotte nearly added a third in the waning seconds when Enzo again stole down the right, drawing a save from Cavalluzzo who smothered the rebound.
The half-time whistle was merciful, though there were green shoots in the final minutes from Endoh and Hamilton.
Then came the madness.
For some reason Alex Martinez was very displeased with McCrary. The two bumped as McCrary shielded the ball in reception, then Martinez gave him a two-handed shove in the back on the touch-line. It was unnecessary and seemed to come out of nowhere.
While the replay was shown, hell broke loose. Shoving ensued, Martinez was shown a red – the commentators seemed to believe it was for spitting, but that cannot be confirmed at this time. Either way, Charlotte were reduced to ten men for the remainder of the match.
Onkony would see a yellow in the 55th minute, deservedly for wrapping up Siaj as the attacker looked to turn him and Bent went to his bench two minutes later, replacing the defender with Oyvind Alseth, adding a little more attacking impetus from that right-side of the back-three and protecting from a second booking negating the man-advantage.
Still, it was Charlotte who found the next chance when Siaj forced another fine save out of Cavalluzzo in the 59th minute after some neat passing down the right.
Ryan Telfer was alert to the danger in the 62nd minute, doing yeoman's work to recover and pester another right-sided Charlotte move, forcing a corner. Yearwood would see him effort from the top of the box deflected over by Taintor on the ensuing delivery.
A seemingly innocuous play in the 66th minute would be indicative of the changing nature of the match. Spencer, who had struggled to assert himself on the proceedings, was energized, shouldering into a defender, conceding a pointless foul.
But it seemed to spark something.
A minute later Aidan Daniels came on for Johnson and two minutes after that, Toronto were on the board.
An Endoh ball from a right-sided corner kick was whipped into the area, falling nicely for Morgan at the top of the box. He settled the ball and drove a low shot back against the grain, catching Mizell moving to find the right-side of goal. The Charlotte keeper got a hand to it, but not enough to prevent it crossing the line.
The second would come two minutes later, in the 71st minute, from Spencer, his first of the season.
A ball in from McCrary on the right was flicked on to the far-side, where Telfer collected and flung it back in towards Hamilton at the back-post. Charlotte could not get the required touch and Spencer pounced for a sliding finish on the loose ball, sending it across the line from short-range.
It wasn't a thing of beauty, but Spencer, and TFC II, needed that bit of luck.
That was two.
Five minutes later, Hamilton, with the near-invert of the late equalizer he netted in the last meeting between the two, added the third, capping off an enjoyable seven minutes.
Endoh played a ball down the right for McCrary, who surged into the area before pulling back to Hamilton high at the near-post. Instead of curling inside onto his left as he did earlier in the month, Hamilton cut the other way, making space for a right-footed blast powered into the top corner of the goal.
Brian James would see yellow in the 80th minute and Charlotte substitute Jacob Bender would ripple the outside netting with a fine volley from a tight angle in the 85th minute.
Cavalluzzo would be booked in the 86th minute for time-wasting, apparently, while Bent made his final sub in the 88th replacing the hero Hamilton with Dante Campbell.
With the clock ticking down, there was still time for more drama. Enzo burst down the right-side of the area and poked a ball towards goal. It took a slight deflection off of the sliding Taintor, but Cavalluzzo would track it, making a fine save before popping up to be in position for the follow-up from Hilton. Whether the keeper made the save or a defender, McCrary, got the block, was unclear. Either way, as Bent demanded prematch: it was ruthless defending, going the extra mile to get in the block, make the save, and see out the result.
The bad blood brewing was evident in the final moments, with some shoving and squaring off arising on occasion throughout stoppage-time and the Charlotte keeper Mizell even came up for a last ditch attempt.
But Toronto would see out the remaining moments to celebrate a well-deserved 3-2 win in their penultimate road match of the season.
An archive of the match is available on YouTube, the second half is particular is must-see TV.
The massive three points, depending on results elsewhere, will go some way to inching Toronto back up the table. Richmond were winners on the night as well, so the Young Reds will remain bottom of the table, but the distance between them and the post-season got a little bit smaller.
Aside from that tangible factor, the confidence earned from such a night could mean even more as they brace for the stretch run.
There is much work to be done, starting with a match against Saint Louis FC on Wednesday, but the resolve will be stiffened.
Just how it will play out... well, one will have to wait and see.
CLT – Enzo Martinez (Jamie Siaj) 21’
CLT – Jamie Siaj (Bilal Duckett) 32’
TFC II – Ashtone Morgan (Ben Spencer) 69’
TFC II – Ben Spencer 71’
TFC II – Jordan Hamilton (Jordan McCrary) 76’
TFC II – Mitchell Taintor (Caution) 14’
CLT – Alex Martinez (Ejection) 49’
TFC II – Brandon Onkony (Caution) 55’
CLT – Henry Kalungi (Caution) 64’
TFC II – Brian James (Caution) 81’
TFC II – Angelo Cavalluzzo (Caution) 86’
|Toronto FC II||Charlotte Independence|
|Toronto FC II||Charlotte Independence|
|Shots – 13||Shots – 18|
|Shots on Target – 6||Shots on Target – 9|
|Blocked Shots – 1||Blocked Shots – 4|
|Possession – 45.3%||Possession – 54.7 %|
Toronto FC II – Angelo Cavalluzzo; Brandon Onkony (Oyvind Alseth 57’), Mitchell Taintor©, Ashtone Morgan; Jordan McCrary, Tsubasa Endoh, Brian James, Malik Johnson (Aidan Daniels 67’), Ryan Telfer; Ben Spencer, Jordan Hamilton (Dante Campbell 88’)
Substitutes Not Used: Mark Pais, Brandon Aubrey, Matthew Srbely, Shaan Hundal
Charlotte Independence – Cody Mizell; Joel Johnson, Bilal Duckett©, Henry Kalungi (Jacob Bender 81’), Austin Yearwood; Jun Marques Davidson, Lewis Hilton, David Estrada (Callum Ross 74’), Jamie Siaj (David Spies 74’), Alex Martinez; Enzo Martinez
Substitutes Not Used: Kainoa Likewise, Dennis Castillo, Luke Waechter, Zev Taublieb
Toronto FC II (W-L-D): 5-14-6 21pts.
Charlotte Independence (W-L-D): 12-5-8 44pts.