Toronto FC II took a firm step forward with a 1-0 win over the Charleston Battery on Saturday afternoon, kicking off this final phase of the campaign in style thanks to Shaan Hundal's first goal of the season.
Results elsewhere mean that TFC II remain ten points behind the dividing line, but with the confidence boosting result against the former Eastern Conference leaders – Charlotte overtook Charleston on the night – and the fact that seven of their final eleven matches are at home – where they have a record of four wins, three losses, and three draws, winning their last two, three of the last four, and taken points from five of their last six – means that these final three months of the season are sure to provide some drama.
As per usual, Jason Bent made several changes to the starting eleven: Angelo Cavalluzzo returned between the pipes in place of Mark Pais, while Robert Boskovic took up to the left-side of the back-line, moving Mitch Taintor into the middle and displacing Brandon Aubrey. Both wing-backs were swapped, with Jordan McCrary and Ryan Telfer replacing Dante Campbell and Anthony Osorio. While Tsubasa Endoh and Malik Johnson were inserted into the attack, as the formation appeared to change back to the 3-4-3 after a couple matches of 3-5-2.
There was a bit of a quirk prematch, as it was announced that several Charleston players were unavailable due to visa issues. The list included two of the Battery's more dangerous attackers: Romario Williams and Maikel Chang.
Intent on getting off to a better start than they did in Ottawa last weekend, TFC II came out of the gates like a shot, nearly finding a breakthrough inside the first minute. Johnson turned away from pressure and spotted the run of Endoh up the right-channel with a clear passing lane, but his ball skittered just beyond the reach of the streaking runner.
Vocal in the build-up, Liam Fraser was on his game this day. In the 14th minute he thundered back, as is his way, to get a boot in on Kotaro Higashi, preventing him from getting any closer to goal and he hit several lovely balls (more on those later), though his first cross-field attempt ended up striking his teammate Johnson instead of finding its mark.
Telfer had a decent look in the 15th minute, courtesy a neat touch from Aidan Daniels, ripping a left-footer from range just high of the top left-corner of the Charleston goal.
Charleston found their first decent look at goal in the 18th minute and nearly made TFC II pay for conceding a free-kick deep on the right. Justin Portillo clipped a ball towards the back-post, where former Toronto defender Skylar Thomas got body position, bringing it down on the edge of the six-yard box. But Taintor, the nearest defender, did just enough to put off his former teammate.
Ataulla Guerra would curve a wicked shot towards the Toronto goal in the 25th minute, a sweetly struck left-footer that shaped around Taintor but could not stay under the bar.
With both sides having gotten looks at goal, the match really came to life in the final fifteen minutes, caution thrown to the wind as the chances came thick and fast. Were it not for the nausea-inducing stream skipping, it would have been quite enjoyable.
A McCrary ball in from the right led to a half-chance, as Charleston keeper Odisnel Cooper spilled what should have been a simple pick-up. Johnson was lurking for Toronto, but did not gamble on the error.
Some good work up the middle of the park between Endoh and Johnson in the 33rd minute was foiled, but when the ball was worked back to Fraser, he deftly picked out the run of Endoh, only for the connection to be missed by inches.
The Battery found a glorious chance come the 38th minute when Neveal Hackshaw got in behind, clear on goal, but having had time to allow the ball to settle, his weak left-footer was disappointingly straight at Cavalluzzo, who made the save.
Back at the other end seconds later, a seemingly dead-end run up the right from Johnson was miraculously kept it, pulling back to the near-post for the lurking Hundal, but the striker was caught wrong-footed and could not adjust before the chance evaporated.
Another gorgeous ball from Fraser put McCrary down the right-side of the box in the 40th minute, but his cross was a little too high for Hundal to get on the end.
Fraser then played a wonderful fifty-yard pass (video below) to spring Hundal in the 41st minute that came to nought. A minute later, a quick free-kick from Fraser to Hundal saw the striker cut in from the left, only for his right-footer to skip wide of the near-post.
The final two chances of the half would fall the visitors away in the last minute of play. Guerra would whiff on a good look in the box, while Cavalluzzo was called upon again to be the hero when a well-worked move scythed open the TFC II defenses.
Portillo found Higashi on the left-side of the box, who touched neatly into the path of the streaking Quentin Griffith, but the Toronto keeper was equal to the effort, parrying the drive away.
Level at half-time after a strong first half, Toronto could take pride in having gone toe-to-toe with a side who had beat them 6-1 in the previous meeting. On that day Charleston emerged with a two-goal advantage from the half, doubling it in the opening fifteen minutes of the second.
But this time it was TFC II who cracked open the match after the restart, taking the lead in the 52nd minute through Hundal.
Endoh got on the ball in midfield, springing a quick counter with a lovely curved ball behind the Battery defenses to send Hundal clear on goal. Racing away from two defenders in hot pursuit, Hundal calmly slid a left-footed finish under the keeper for his first of the season.
Toronto would nearly double their lead in the 58th minute when Johnson broke into the right-side of the area, only for the trailing foot of Charleston keeper, Cooper, to deny his effort.
Bent would go to his bench for the first time in the 62nd minute, replacing Daniels with Brian James, fresh legs in the middle of the park.
Julian Dunn would put in a sublime bit of defensive work in the 69th minute, tracking a runner and putting in a strong tackle out wide, while Cavalluzzo was alert in the 71st minute, quick off his line to snuff out some potential trouble.
Sergio Camargo would replace Johnson in the 74th minute after the tricky midfielder fell awkwardly on a break, shoved by his former teammate Thomas as he looked to surge on goal.
Dunn would make another vital intervention in the 81st minute, adroitly reading the play to touch out for a corner with two Charleston attackers looking to pounce on a dangerous ball.
Cavalluzzo too would be there when called upon, getting a strong pair of hands on a Garbanzo shot from the top left-corner of the box when the ensuing corner kick was flicked to him lurking away from the crowd.
Campbell would come on for McCrary in the 82nd minute, Toronto's third substitute, and two minutes later Charleston would be reduced to ten men for the remainder of the game, having used all three of their changes, when Griffith picked up a knock and was unable to continue.
With the clock ticking down, Toronto were nearly burnt by getting a little too cute, trying to rag time near the corner flag. A turnover allowed Charleston to work the ball into the area, but it was eventually cleared after a nervous moment or two.
Midway through the four minutes of stoppage-time, Dunn would see yellow for time-wasting, but despite Toronto's best efforts to kill the game off, there was more drama left.
Well past the allotted four, the Battery were given one last chance to fling a deep free-kick into the area. Cavalluzzo came out to punch, colliding with Nicholas Rittmayer in the process, missing his punch and seemingly redirecting the ball into his own, unguarded, net.
There were few nervy moments as it was unclear whether the foul had been called, but in the end it had, negating the chance and securing a 1-0 win for TFC II.
An archive of the match is available on YouTube, warning, the video is still a little choppy, but nowhere near as bad as watching it live was.
From the frying pan into the fire, as the saying goes, Toronto FC II will return to the pitch Wednesday at BMO Field for a second straight game against the Eastern Conference leaders. Charleston's loss and Charlotte's win saw the Independence leapfrog over the Battery into first place.
Can TFC II take the momentum from such a win, channel the excitement of playing at BMO Field, and turn it all into another head-turning result? Time will tell. Should be a good one.
TFC II – Shaan Hundal (Tsubasa Endoh) 52’
CHS – Ricky Garbanzo 16’ (Caution)
TFC II – Julian Dunn 90’ + 2’ (Caution)
|Toronto FC II||Charleston Battery|
|Toronto FC II||Charleston Battery|
|Shots – 4||Shots – 9|
|Shots on Target – 2||Shots on Target – 5|
|Blocked Shots – 0||Blocked Shots – 3|
|Possession – 44.1%||Possession – 55.9 %|
Toronto FC II – Angelo Cavalluzzo; Julian Dunn, Mitchell Taintor©, Robert Boskovic; Jordan McCrary (Dante Campbell 82’), Tsubasa Endoh, Liam Fraser, Aidan Daniels (Brian James 62’), Ryan Telfer; Malik Johnson (Sergio Camargo 74’), Shaan Hundal
Substitutes Not Used: Mark Pais, Brandon Aubrey, Aikim Andrews, Ricardo John
Charleston Battery – Odisnel Cooper; Skylar Thomas (Jarad Van Schaik 76’), Taylor Mueller©, Forrest Lasso, Quentin Griffith; Neveal Hackshaw (Nicholas Rittmeyer 69’), Justin Portillo, Tah Anunga, Kotaro Higashi; Ataulla Guerra (Heviel Cordoves 55’), Ricky Garbanzo
Substitutes Not Used: Alex Tambakis, Ryan Arambula
Toronto FC II (W-L-D): 4-12-5 17pts.
Charleston Battery (W-L-D): 10-5-7 37pts.