Toronto FC II resume their quest to surge up the table with their third match of the week at home against Rochester.
With six matches remaining on the season and twelve points between them and the final playoff berth, post-season aspirations may seem distant. But until mathematically impossible, the side will have that squarely in their sights.
Toronto enter the match in relatively good spirits, having salvaged a point at home against Saint Louis FC midweek. It was yet another match that was emblematic of their season: playing well, conceding on virtually the opponent's only real threat of the match, and then refusing to give up, though this time they were able to find the stoppage-time equalizer required.
The draw saw TFC II extend their unbeaten streak to two matches, while also stretching their run of strong home form to four unbeaten, having drawn the last two.
And if they are to make it to the post-season, making the most of that home quality is of the utmost importance. Five of their six remaining are at either the Ontario Soccer Centre or BMO Field.
In Rochester, Toronto will be facing one of those teams they are chasing
The Rhinos enter in possession of the fifth-spot in the Eastern Conference, level on points with the Tampa Bay Rowdies at 38, but trailing in goal-differential, the second tie-breaker.
They have both a two-point and three-game cushion on Orlando City B, who sit in sixth.
Through 23 matches, the Rhinos, led by coach Bob Lilley, have amassed a record of ten wins, five losses, and eight draws, with a goal-difference of plus-five.
They have won three of their last five overall and have surged up the table in recent weeks on the strength of their road performances, taking points from four of their last five, two each of draws and wins – taking full points at the Harrisburg City Islanders and FC Cincinnati either side of an away loss to New York Red Bull II most recently.
Their away record on the season is a humble three wins, three losses, and five draws, which is hardly the most impressive, but travel in USL is difficult, so any points should be seen as welcome.
It is interesting that despite scoring just 27 goals on the season Rochester can lay claim to such a lofty spot. As has been mentioned before, margins are thin.
Proof of that emerges in the bizarre fact that by scoring just an additional eight goals, Rochester has amassed a full sixteen points more than TFC II. Though, to be far, the nineteen fewer conceded has an awful lot to do with that disparity.
That they have spread out the scoring rather than relying on a single individual helps too.
Wall Fal leads the side with eight goals from 22 appearances, Jochen Graf has added six in ten, while Darius Madison has three in fifteen to round out their top three scorers. Mike Garzi and Kenardo Forbes, an experienced, creative midfielder who will be available again, back from suspension, have each contributed two, in eighteen and nineteen matches, respectively. And plenty of players have chipped in with singles.
As such, TFC II know they will be in for a tense battle, not unlike their last match with Preki's Saint Louis FC.
“We're expecting more of the same,” said assistant coach Chris Pozniak from training on Friday. “[Rochester] grind out results. Don't score too many goals, but concede very few. It will be hard to break them down. They're very organized.”
“A mental, tactical battle.”
Ryan Telfer, who has turned heads with his attacking play in the wide position, sees this one playing out much like the two previous meetings between the clubs.
“A tough gritty match, as always,” said Telfer. “They come out of the gates, never give up, always running. We expect a very tough fight. The last two games: the first game we drew, was even stevens; the second game we went down a man for a red card and lost. We're expecting to go out full force and get three points.”
The Rhinos come in more rested than TFC and in good spirits after a 2-1 win over Saint Louis last Saturday at Capelli Sport Stadium in Rochester.
Ryan Howe gave the visitors the lead in the 3rd minute, but a red card and penalty kick for handing on the line by Seth Rudolph in the 6th minute turned the tide. Fall converted the spot kick a minute later and Graf nabbed the winner in the 55th minute, set up by Christiano Francois.
Rochester got the better of Toronto in their last meeting, winning 2-0 at their ground on July 26. A red card to Brandon Onkony in the 26th minute, a debatable decision, put TFC under pressure, though it took the home side until the 58th minute to force a break-through, requiring a sublime ball from Forbes to play in Stefan Defragger for the finish. A Julian Dunn own-goal in the 76th minute rounded out the scoring.
Their previous meeting in Toronto on April 7 ended 0-0, or as Telfer put it, 'even stevens'.
Rochester has dominated the all-time series with five wins to Toronto's one; the other three matches have ended level.
Kick off is set for 7:30 pm and can be viewed on YouTube (below) or at tfc2.ca, as usual.
Part of TFC II's success at home should be given to the relentless support they receive from the Ultras Rosso, the next generation of TFC supporters, who keep up the singing and chanting for ninety-plus minutes.
“I love those guys,” said Telfer of the crew. “Every minute of the game I can hear them, yelling, screaming. I absolutely love them.”
“It motivates us tremendously; you can compare it to the first team at BMO. They come out every home game and give it their all. On the field, we feel that motivation,” added Telfer. “We try to give it our all, just for them.”
With TFC II needing to continue that home form, every bit helps.
Though time is short, the TFC II management are looking to use every moment to improve their side, seeking to redress the shortcoming that has plagued their season.
“We're looking for consistency,” said Pozniak, asked what he wanted to see from the rest of the regular season. “We've gotten two good results on the trot; we're looking to continue that run. That has been the problem in the past. We've produced good performances sporadically, but not in a row.”
And though odds are long, there is no sense in throwing in the towel. Even when technically out of the running, they can still do an awful lot of spoiling.
“[We want] to show that we still have some fight left in us,” said Telfer. “It is hopeful that we can still make playoffs. I believe the team can pull together and make it through.”
Match hashtag: #TORvROC