Toronto FC II wrap up the 2018 USL regular season this week with a pair away dates: on Saturday at Penn FC and on Tuesday night when they travel to Tennessee to face Nashville SC – kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m.
On the heels of a 3-1 defeat at the hands of playoff-bound Louisville City FC on Friday night, Toronto will be looking to rebound from that loss and ensure they close out the campaign on a positive note as they brace for an element of the unknown heading into a new division in 2019.
That was the message emerging from training ahead of Louisville: close the season strong and continue to evaluate the progression made by players as the end rolls around and decisions are made about who will be with the club next season and who will have to find opportunity elsewhere.
Louisville, with the 4-1 dismantling TFC II laid on them at home fresh in the mind, came out firing, pressing and harrying the home side through the opening half hour, taking the lead after just 11 minutes when Ilija Ilic powered through the back line.
Despite starting to rise to the challenge thereafter, Toronto would concede again before half-time, from a set-piece, when Alexis Souahy got to the near-post first to power in a corner kick, doubling Louisville’s advantage.
Toronto would go in search of a means back into the game, controlling large passages of the second half, but were not able to find a way through the Louisville defences. Ayo Akinola was denied a goal before coming off that would have made the final twenty minutes interesting, but Cameron Lancaster, off the bench, added a third before Jordan Perruzza, in just his second appearance for the club, grabbed some consolation for TFC II.
Perruzza was lively in his cameo, but the offside flag would again prove a bane in the final throes of the match.
Much like Louisville, Nashville too will be eager to respond to an earlier defeat to TFC II.
Back on July 28, Toronto collected their first win of the season against Nashville in Rochester with Matt Srbely and Luca Uccello the goal-scorers. It is the only previous encounter between the two sides.
Nashville exited this past weekend, the penultimate of the USL season, sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference on 47 points from 32 matches with a record of twelve wins, nine losses, and eleven ties.
A 3-0 win over the Richmond Kickers extended an unbeaten run to four matches, which has seen them surge into a pack of six teams vying for the final four playoff berths in the East.
Five points separate fifth from tenth with two or one matches remaining for each side. Nashville are two points behind the leaders Indy Eleven and three ahead of North Carolina FC, the lowest team still mathematically alive.
Nashville are level on points with sixth-placed Bethlehem Steel FC, who have one additional win – the first tie-breaker – and a single point ahead of New York Red Bulls II in eighth, that final spot. Rest assured, they will be eager to take all three on Tuesday.
Head coach Gary Smith told nashvillesc.com this week: “There is no getting away from how important this is. Once you get towards the end of the season, and the ability to clinch a playoff spot gets in sight, each game carries more importance than the next.”
In that spirit, their last defeat came on September 12, a 2-1 loss at home against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Since they have drawn at home against the Charleston Battery and New York Red Bulls II and won 2-0 away at Atlanta United 2.
But at home, despite a strong record of eight wins, three losses, and four draws on the season, they are winless in three. The two draws and the loss to Tampa Bay encapsulating those crucial dropped points.
Brandon Allen leads the side with eight goals in 26 appearances, Lebo Moloto seven goals in 28 appearances, and Tucker Hume has six in 18. Moloto and Michael Reed, with five assists each in 28 and 29 appearances, respectively, top that chart.
The match will be played at First Tennessee Park and will be streamed on YouTube (below) – kickoff again is set for 8:30 p.m.