Toronto FC II will be looking to turn the page on a disappointing September come Wednesday night when they face off against Eastern Conference leaders Louisville City FC at the Ontario Soccer Centre in their final action of the month. Kickoff is set for 7:30 pm.
Three matches remain on the season for the Young Reds, all of which will be played at home, as they close out the 2017 campaign with an eye towards next season.
Eliminated from playoff contention, Toronto will be looking to play spoilers for the rest of the year. Louisville has already clinched a post-season berth and have a solid seven-point cushion atop the conference, but subsequent opponents – Bethlehem Steel FC and FC Cincinnati – are battling for their playoff lives, both currently above the line, but only just.
August and a last-chance push up the table began well for TFC II with results against the top two sides in the East at the time (the Charleston Battery and the Charlotte Independence), but since then results have been difficult to come by. Toronto has won just one of their last seven matches, that coming in Charlotte, and enter Wednesday's action on the back of three straight-losses, winless in four.
Despite some heavy legs after a nine-hour bus ride to Harrisburg, TFC II took the lead against the City Islanders on September 16 through a Shaan Hundal strike, but a heart-breaking equalizer on the last touch of the first half and another five minutes after the restart, seconds after Toronto spurned a chance to take the lead, proved too much for the side to overcome.
But as has been the case all season, Toronto has proved adept at putting disappointment behind them to face each match anew.
In Louisville, however, they have one of the form teams in the league with which to contend.
Sitting atop the conference on 55 points from 28 matches, City's record of sixteen wins, five losses, and seven draws with a plus-25 goal-differential is a near mirror-image of TFC II's, who have seventeen losses, five wins, and an equal number of draws with a minus-25 differential.
The two are also in opposite runs of form with Louisville unbeaten in five and Toronto winless in four, having lost their last three. Even given the circumstances of home and away, that trend remains with the visitors unbeaten in their last three road matches and the hosts winless in four at home.
TFC II know they will be in for a battle on Wednesday night.
“We expect them to come out hard, to seal first place,” said Hundal after training on Tuesday. “Like every game, we're going to go at it the way we do.”
Louisville coach James O'Conner has his side primed for a playoff run. Having dropped points away to Ottawa Fury FC on the weekend, they will be looking to maximize their output from their second away day in Canada ahead of a Saturday trip to face the Rochester Rhinos before closing out the regular season at home.
George Davis IV gave Louisville a second half lead in the 56th minute on Sunday afternoon, but Nick DePuy responded twelve minutes later to earn Ottawa a share of the points.
TFC II coach Jason Bent has been tracking them closely in anticipation of Wednesday's encounter.
“They've been playing out of a 3-4-3 shape. They're an experienced team, a very pressing team, and they're good on the ball. It's no mistake they're at at the top of the East and almost the top of the league,” said Bent on Tuesday. “They've got a few dangerous pieces: [Brian] Ownby should be back in the side, [Niall] McCabe; middle of the park [Guy] Abend and [Devon] Speedy Williams, solid. And Davis Jr. [IV] has popped up in an unfamiliar role as a right wing-back, but did a solid job the other day.”
Bent said he expects the match to have more a tempo than the clash in Ottawa, given the mid-afternoon late-summer heat both sides were dealing with – though, Toronto is anything but cool at the moment.
In particular, Toronto will be challenged by a unique threat, or series of threats, that Louisville possesses. Like few other teams in USL, Louisville has a plethora of goal-scorers who on the day can do the damage.
Luke Spencer leads the way with ten in 22 appearances and both Cameron Lancaster and Davis IV each have six in 20 and 23 appearances, respectively. Ownby has chipped in four from 25 appearances, while six players each have three, including former Young Red, Mark-Anthony Kaye, and six others have at least one to their name.
Lancaster is reportedly dealing with a broken toe, but is still available.
Trouble lies around every corner.
Bent addressed that difficulty, pointing to 'awareness, communication; being able to track things' as the key means of quelling such a potent attack.
“Unless you get a shout, you've got to deal with the situation yourself,” stressed Bent. “There's a lot of movement from their top three. They've got goal-scorers in every position. They're a good team. We're going to have to be really at it on the day to get the three points. Collectively very aware to get the three points.”
To Toronto's favour, the last meeting was a 0-0 draw in Louisville, their first point ever against the side, having lost all four previous matches.
“Against the top teams we show up on the day, give a good account of ourselves,” said Bent of his takeaways from that match. “That game Angelo Cavalluzzo stood on his head, saved us a point. We had enough chances to possibly win the game, but we were pleased to go into environment like Louisville, against a top side, and take a point from them. Hopefully we can go one better tomorrow night and win the game.”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 pm and can be streamed at YouTube, below, or at tfc2.ca, as usual.
With the season winding down, just what sort of a side Bent will put out there remains to be seen.
Exemplary of the dual roles embodied by TFC II, expect to see a mix of first team players in need of minutes with the MLS side approaching a playoff run and young players getting their first tastes of USL action in preparation for next season, as well as the regulars.
Ben Spencer, Jordan Hamilton, Jay Chapman, Tsubasa Endoh, and Sergio Camargo are all candidates to get minutes, perhaps even Nick Hagglund, who is reportedly fit again – though whether the turf up at the OSC is the best place to return from a knee injury is doubtful – while Rocco Romeo got his first USL minutes of the season last match having signed a pro deal days earlier.
Noble Okello, another who inked a deal recently, is not on the current squad list as per USLsoccer.com, but Daniel DaSilva, who has impressed with TFC III this season, is.
One player who has found some form of late is Hundal, who has scored two of his three goals this season in the last four matches.
Last season, Hundal was joint top-scorer with Raheem Edwards with six goals; he is tied for second most this season, his three equalling the output of Luca Uccello. Hamilton leads the way with five.
The forward just turned 18 in July and said he's 'more comfortable on the ball' and knows what he's going to do before it comes to him.
That has shown in recent weeks, pouncing to put in the rebound from a Malik Johnson shot in Harrisburg and surging onto an Endoh through-ball against Saint Louis FC to salvage a point for Toronto.
“I've just been playing my game, haven't changed anything,” said Hundal. “I knew it was going to come sooner or later. It's coming now.”
Match Hashtag: #TORvLOU