Toronto FC II return to the pitch looking to respond after last weekend's loss against the Rochester Rhinos all but ended their hopes of a playoff berth.
Jalen Brown scored the only goal of the match in the tenth minute, and though, as they have all season, TFC II refused to go quietly – Brandon Aubrey nearly found the equalizer at the death – the Rhinos took all three points on the night.
With the loss, which also ended a four-match unbeaten run at home, Toronto's hopes of a dramatic close to the season, surging up the table into the playoff-positions, were dimmed.
Entering Saturday's match they sit a full thirteen points behind FC Cincinnati, in possession of the final berth on 35 points. With just five matches remaining, fifteen points available, probability is the enemy.
But as Jason Bent said on Friday after training, “[There] shouldn't be much motivation needed to play at BMO Field this weekend.”
“The playoffs are mathematically not beyond us, but if you look at the table, our inability to put together back to back wins has put us in a difficult position,” continued Bent. “The players have to approach it with pride, their own professional aspirations. People are always looking: upper management, the first team coach, who will be at the game. You're always playing for something.”
“There shouldn't be much motivation needed for that,” reiterated Bent.
Indeed, the match also brings with a few other factors that will serve to spur the side on as they seek to close out the campaign on a positive.
As well as playing at BMO Field, the big stage, as it were, TFC II will be looking for a modicum of revenge for the July defeat the Red Bulls II handed them. In addition, Bent sees New York as the template for MLS II teams in USL.
Not only have New York graduated several players to the first team, but they also won the USL Championship last season.
“New York is one of the trendsetters in terms of MLS II teams in USL. Somebody we would like to follow after, in terms of the example they have set for standard,” said Bent. “Tough competition; tough squad. They play exactly as their first team. We have to to show we can, not only handle it, but exceed at that level.”
Though they have not reached the heights of last season's triumph, New York has been in good form of late.
Sitting above the playoff line, in seventh in the Eastern Conference with 35 points from 26 matches, John Wolyniec's side has put together a strong season after some early struggles.
They are unbeaten through their last five, alternating wins and losses, though their road form leaves a little to be desired having gone winless through six, half each of draws and losses. In keeping with the resurgence, they have drawn their last two – to Ottawa Fury FC and the Charleston Battery.
Since that defeat of TFC II, the Red Bulls have lost just once in six matches – away to conference leaders, Louisville City FC.
Most recently, they handed the Tampa Bay Rowdies a 4-2 loss on Saturday in New Jersey.
Andrew Tinari gave New York the lead in the 17th minute, only for Martin Paterson to respond three minutes later. Noah Powder reinstated the lead for the hosts in the 41st minute and Florian Valot extended it come the 54th minute of play. Hunter Gorskie pulled one back for the visitors in the 77th minute, only for Junior Flemmings to seal the win in the 83rd minute.
With a record of ten wins, eleven losses, and five draws, while conceding 45 goals – three more than TFC II with one less game played – that New York sits as high as they do is an indication of how important the ability to score can be to success.
Where TFC II have netted just nineteen goals, NYRB II have 42, more than double; such production means there is always a chance, even if the back-line is a little vulnerable.
And that they have accomplished that feat while losing some of their best players to the first team – Arun Basuljevic, Vincent Bezecourt, and goalkeeper Evan Louro have all spent time with the senior side – not to mention that top scorer, Brandon Allen, has been on loan at Minnesota United FC for the past month or so.
Aside from Allen, Flemmings leads the side with eight goals in 23 appearances. Bezecourt has added six from nineteen, Stefano Bonomo four in seven, Valot three in 23, and Tinari and Zeiko Lewis two each, in eighteen and twenty, respectively. A handful of players have contributed singles.
A slight wrinkle in their plans will be both Toronto's determination to perform under the lights at BMO Field, as well as a less-than-stellar road record.
New York has just one win away from home through eleven matches, though five draws have allowed them to collect eight points from their travels. Toronto has earned the same number of points despite losing six more away by dint of two wins, though New York has played four fewer away to this point.
Home form has been a strength for TFC II this season, winning three, losing four, and drawing five all season, though recent matches have seen them go winless through two.
New York took the previous meeting 1-0 on July 21 on a first half strike from Bezecourt after he was played in on goal by Flemmings.
“They had the majority of the first half, we tried to play underneath the pressure, couldn't get any territory; they really suffocated us,” recalled Bent of the last meeting. “The goal we gave up was a straight ball up the middle, something that we have to improve on; cannot get beat from those situations.”
“The second half we showed real fight, character; much more comfortable on the ball, [the guys] tried to express themselves,” continued Bent. “It was a game of two halves. Maybe we could have taken some points at the end of the game. Ricardo John had a good look, ended up slipping and the shot went over the bar.”
Added Julian Dunn, who returned to the lineup last match against Rochester: “We know they're a good side. We have to come out and perform, bounce back from loss.”
Kickoff is set for 8 pm after the conclusion of the first team match against the San Jose Earthquakes. For those not in attendance, the game will be streamed on YouTube (below), or at tfc2.ca, as usual.
That the match will be played at BMO Field can only spur TFC II on. In the previous two matches played there, they have entertained, though results have not match performances.
They outplayed Bethlehem Steel FC in the first, only to lose 1-0 on an early penalty kick back in May, and stole a 2-2 draw with then conference leaders Charlotte in the second, outplaying them for large portions of the match, though a late equalizer from Jordan Hamilton after the Independence were reduced to ten men was required.
Bent sees the change of location as a boon to the side: “From a motivational standpoint, as well as the aspect of playing on a nice grass surface.”
“Somewhere they envision [playing] week to week,” continued Bent. “The speed of our game is increased [when playing there in the past]; guys are up for the game.”
Injuries have plagued the side all season, but Bent said that aside from long-term absentee Jelani Peters, only Mitch Taintor and Aikim Andrews, who was forced off early last match, will not be available. The rest of those on short-term absences should be available.
And with the pitch at BMO much more reliable, expect to see a handful of first team players get some valuable minutes.
Be sure to stick around after the TFC-San Jose match to cheer on the Young Reds.
Dunn, the 17-year old defender looking to mark his second-ever appearance at BMO Field, summed up the vibe nicely: “Should be a good crowd; amazing field. We're at home, go out there do our thing.”
Match Hashtag: #TORvNY