Toronto FC II begins their 2018 USL season on Saturday afternoon when they travel to face the New York Red Bulls II at Red Bull Arena – kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
The match will be streamed on YouTube.
In anticipation, WTR caught up with Laurent Guyot, the man who will take the reins at TFC II with Jason Bent having moved to the first team staff in the offseason.
In the past, Greg Vanney has said it was a three-to-five year project, to get the club populated with academy graduates and able to compete at this level. 2018 will be the club’s fourth season in USL. As such, it is a crucial year.
Many players spent the first portion of preseason with the first team in Los Angeles, returning back to Toronto to continue before a stint in Arizona.
“You don’t prepare the season like a normal team, a normal roster,” said Guyot last Friday. “But it’s OK, it is what it is. The challenge is to give the opportunity for a lot of players to show what they are able to do and to give minutes for first team players too.”
“It’s not a normal team, like some we’re going to play, who have a final roster, have been five-six weeks together,” continued Guyot. “It’s not our goal, but for sure, we’re going to have to compete. We’ll see what is going to happen.”
Then, TFC II had just 16 players on their roster. Four signings announced on Thursday – midfielder Alan Mariano Mino, goalkeeper Drew Shepherd, and defenders Robert Boskovic and Kyle Bjornethun – have brought that tally up to 20.
Guyot foreshadowed their arrival: “For sure, I expect more [signings].”
“It’s the story of all second teams everywhere in the world. [There are] many things to deal with: younger players able to start sometimes, players of the first team who might come with the second team sometimes... how many? For how long?”
Speaking with the media on Thursday, Vanney was not yet ready to announce who from the first team would be travelling to New York instead of Montreal, but presumably there will be a few.
But for the main part, Guyot will be relying principally on a core group of homegrown players who have proved their value over the last few seasons: Luca Uccello, Aidan Daniels, Malik Johnson, Angelo Cavalluzzo, and Shaan Hundal.
WTR will have more on the state of the roster in a season preview up before kickoff.
That group will be looked to to provide the leadership, but Guyot would not be drawn on naming a captain at this point.
“We have a lot of different options,” he said. “What is important for me is not to have one captain, but four/five players able to communicate about aspects of the game, life in the dressing room, and on the field to guide the other guys. For sure, among the 97s, 98s.”
As for the club, this will be a big season for that core group.
Guyot shared an observation he uses: “In Europe, there are a lot of good players, very good players, 19-years-old, 20-years-old, but it’s very rare to have them in the lineup regularly before 22.”
He and TFC are using TFC II to ensure that those who show promise at a young age continue on the pathway to the first team.
“USL is a very good level,” said Guyot. “To develop skills, to keep going to work, to realize that nothing is guaranteed.”
“We have a lot of players who have to show what they are able to do at this level,” explained Guyot, referring mainly to the midfield and striking positions. “20-years-old, third year at this level. If you want to have a chance to make it in MLS, you have to be able to compete and help the team get results.”
At the back, however, is a different story.
“Where we don’t have a lot is defensively, at centre-back. [Those] we have are 2000s, players with potential,” added Guyot. “[Everybody knows] the importance of centre-backs, the knowledge of games, the experience you need to play at this level, and [we] are going to start with 2000s.”
“It’s amazing for them, for the club, to have players able to start to compete,” continued Guyot. “[But] there are going to be some lacks in certain situations because it a position where you need to play a lot of games to know what you have to do. Again, they are here to get experience. It’s a part of the challenge for this team.”
Jelani Peters is not yet back from the injury that cut his season short last year, though Boskovic does add a touch more experience to a young group.
With so many unknowns heading into the opener, understandably TFC II will be a work in progress.
“I don’t want to take goals and want to score a lot,” laughed Guyot when asked about the style he plans to implement. “Like everybody.”
But both he and the side are eager to get the season underway.
“[This] week, we’re going to be more concentrated on the game, the specificity of the game,” said Guyot. “We didn’t have a lot of exhibition games.”
The plan is simple.
“Step-by-step,” laid out Guyot. “What is important is for us is to know what is going to be the first two months. After the assessment of [them], what should be the next two months. And to see if it’s an improvement.”
Guyot, having managed several teams at various levels in his career, is eager to get his boots dirty having served as academy director for TFC the last few years.
“Of course,” he said when asked if he was looking forward to being back on the touchline, in the fray of the match. “When you are in soccer, it’s because you like that. It’s the core of the business, the field. I’m very happy to be here.”
“But now it’s one part of the job, I was happy without that,” he added. “But for sure I like it and I already enjoy in advance, to know it is going to start next week.”