Toronto FC II are back in action on Friday night under the lights at Lamport Stadium when Louisville City FC come to town for the final home fixture of the 2018 USL season.
Away matches next week – Tuesday at Nashville SC and Saturday at Penn FC – remain ahead, but TFC II are eager to close the book on this year with a solid run.
“Finish out strong,” said Tim Kubel on Thursday. “It’s a long season, the first for me in North America that goes March to October.”
“Just leave it all out there. There’s no need to hold anything in the tank, just give everything,” continued Kubel. “That’s what the coaches have been saying. Let’s have – for the first time – two wins in a row. That’s the goal for this weekend and we’ll see about the last two games.”
On the heels of another big away win, dispatching the Charleston Battery 2-1 on Saturday, assistant coach Chris Pozniak wants to see “good performances” from the team through these final three matches.
“We’re looking at professionalism, guys who can keep going when times are tough or when it’s October, you’re making a playoff push and games really mean something,” added Pozniak. “We’re looking for the right mentality from all the players.”
That win in Charleston ended a string of six winless that was remarkable for its wildly entertaining nature, despite the difficulty of finding results, with Toronto scoring ten goals and conceding eighteen.
Ayo Akinola and Jordan Hamilton provided the goals for Toronto over another contender at the top of the Eastern Conference.
“Very good match from our side,” said Pozniak. “We weathered the storm a little bit, frustrated the opposition and were quite good on the counter, which is a strength of ours.”
Kubel called it: “A big confidence booster.”
“It was nice to win again, especially against the big teams,” continued Kubel. “We know we can play, sometimes it’s the getting it on the field stuff that is lacking. It’s nice to get the win for the confidence. It’s a big week coming up now.”
The test ahead will be just as challenging with Louisville City FC coming to town.
Heading into the weekend round of fixtures, John Hackworth’s Louisville sits in second place in the Eastern Conference on 57 points from 31 matches with a record of sixteen wins, six losses, and nine draws and having already clinched a playoff berth.
A full eighteen points behind league-leaders FC Cincinnati, Louisville are level with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, but hold the upper hand with one more win, and have a four points lead on Charleston who sit in fourth.
Louisville enter in good form, on a run of three-straight wins and unbeaten in four, outscoring their opponents 11-1 in those three victories – over Ottawa Fury FC, Penn FC, and most recently dispatching Atlanta United 2 4-1 on the road last weekend.
Their last defeat came on September 11 when they fell 1-0 to Cincinnati in a weather-afflicted, rescheduled match.
Cameron Lancaster leads the side with 21 goals in 27 appearances, Ilija Ilic has ten in 25, as well as eight assists (second in both statistics), while Oscar Jimenez has 9 assists in 28 matches.
That TFC II handed Louisville a 4-1 loss when they visited Louisville Slugger Field on August 28 will be front of mind for the visitors on Friday night.
“We need to have a different approach to this game,” said Hackworth to louisvillecityfc.com. “We’re going to give Toronto a little more respect. We understand what they’re doing to be effective as a team and we’re going to try and counteract that.”
Will Louisville be seeking some revenge for that humbling experience?
“We’re expecting them to be motivated,” said Pozniak, diplomatically. “It’ll be a good fight. They have had quite a long trip, so we’re hoping they’ll be a little leggy and we can use that to our advantage.”
Added Kubel: “Definitely.”
“They’re going to have some revenge thoughts, how they can pay back,” continued Kubel. “We’re ready, training today was sharp. The confidence boost from last weekend was huge; it’s good to have.”
Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. and the match will be streamed on YouTube (below), as usual, but come on out to Lamport if possible.
Finding a stable home at Lamport for the latter part of the season, has been “nice,” according to Pozniak.
“All the boys enjoy playing there; everyone likes going down there for a match,” added Pozniak. “We usually get a good performance, a good feeling out of there. We’re hoping to end our home stand on a positive note.”
With three games left on the season, as well as closing out strong and with some positives, this time of year is about evaluating players and making decisions for next season.
Greg Vanney laid out what he looks for from these players.
“The first thing is growth,” said Vanney. “We want to see [them] improving, showing progress in what they’re doing. We want to feel there is a trajectory that lends them towards being a first team at some point.”
“That is not going to be the case for everybody, but if they continue to get better, taking on what we’re asking of them, that’s good,” continued Vanney. “A lot of these guys are really young, there’s still time for them to learn. But at the same time, I want them to feel some urgency to continue to improve, to get to the level they need to to be successful week in and week out as a group. Individual progression is the key to that.”
That too was Pozniak’s message: “Improvement, gradual improvement throughout the season. Character, the mentality [in training], the mentality to keep going, and the competitiveness throughout.”