Toronto FC II hit the road once more for a Saturday night match against the Charlotte Independence, kickoff at 7 p.m. (stream below), intent on building from a solid opening hour against New York Red Bulls II last weekend.
Toronto took an early lead through Matt Srbely, but then wasted a pair of chance to pad that advantage before New York struck twice within ten minutes in the second half to overturn the result.
“Some disappointment with the loss because we had our chance to win the game,” reflected coach Laurent Guyot. “We were leading 1-0, had some good chances before half, after the half to score the second and maybe the game could have been different.”
“To be honest, watching the video, you could not say the Red Bull win is not deserved,” added Guyot. “They had a lot of chances, pushed a lot. We need to improve with the ball, we lose the ball too quickly. Each time you [do] you give an opportunity to the opponent, to make trouble. With the ball you have the solutions.”
At this early stage, as much as points are the aim, gathering information is equally crucial.
“There were some positive things, a couple of chances that we should take, conceded a lot of chances,” said Greg Vanney. “Laurent and I and the staff have sat down, talked about some things that the group should continue to progress on. To open season in New York, against that style, is always an interesting test. There is some good information that come out for the group to continue to grow and progress.”
In particular, New York’s aggressive pressing style forced Toronto to sharpen up quickly.
“It difficult to manage at moments,” said Robert Boskovic. “They press like crazy, especially at home. It was tough to deal with, but it was a good learning experience.”
Though they lost on the day, TFC II learned much about themselves that they will look to carry forward as the season progresses.
“Our performance in the attacking third,” highlighted Boskovic. “We completed our passes, were good on the ball, threatened a lot. That was one of the big takeaways.”
“Our defensive work rate, especially in the dying minutes of the second half,” critiqued Boskovic. “We need to work on that, we need to get locked in, be the best we can in the final minutes of a half.”
Though one major hurdle from last season, namely scoring goals, has shown early signs of being less a problem. TFC II managed only one in the first match, but created numerous chances to add to that tally.
“Scoring goals is the hardest thing to do in the game,” said Srbely, who netted the goal in New York. “We have a confidence up front; a good vibe. We’re creating chances. We didn’t finish [them all] last game, but creating is the first step. Once we put them in the back of the net, we’re going to win games by a couple goals.”
That confidence could lead to some entertaining matches, the game in New York was incredibly open, a times almost end-to-end action of the kind that coaches dread but players can relish.
“For sure [the game was stretched], especially in the first half,” said Boskovic. “If it’s going both ways, we have players up top that can expose them, so we don’t mind.”
That could be a factor once more this weekend if last season’s encounters are anything to go by. In two meetings in 2017, Toronto and Charlotte combined for nine goals.
From that difficult test in New York, Toronto now head to Charlotte, whose 4-1 win over Ottawa Fury FC last weekend have them sitting tied for first place in the East (not that looking at the table this early in the season is of any particular value).
“A team with a lot of confidence after the win, scoring four goals,” said Guyot of this weekend’s opponent. “Players with experience, older than our players.”
Added Srbely: “Big game. They scored four goals so they definitely have some offensive threats. If we maintain our shape, our defensive structure, we can handle their attack and put a few in their net.”
The game plan will be to track and silence their key attacking pieces: Jorge Herrera, Cordell Cato, and Alex Martinez, to name a few.
“Try and neutralize their big forwards,” laid out Boskovic. “Figure out where they are, how they fall back behind the line as well. Manage them and high press, make them uncomfortable. We’re away, we’ve got nothing to lose.”
Both matches last season were quality spectacles, Toronto scoring first and last in the 2-2 draw at BMO Field and then coming from behind on the road for a 3-2 win. Jordan Hamilton played a big role in each.
Srbely witnessed that comeback, one of the best moments of last season, from the bench.
“The intensity of the game,” recalled Srbely of that match. “We went down 2-0. It’s easy to get down on yourself, throw the game away. But we have a resilient team, a great character. We bounced back and put the ball in the back of the net.”
That matters in a league where margins between victory and defeat are razor thin.
The loss in New York, the impact of missed chances and little moments, emphasized that point.
“Last year, we lost a lot of games by one goal, missed chances that could lead to victories,” said Srbely. “We’re almost there, but we still have a long way to go. We’ve just got to focus on the details. It comes down to mistakes made and the little things. They add up.”
Just what TFC II will look like this weekend is a bit of a mystery.
Guyot trotted out a 4-4-2 diamond in New York. Liam Fraser, who is with the Canadian National Team, will not be available, and several on the TFC II roster will be joining TFC III in Texas for the Dallas Cup.
With just a single match under Guyot, it is difficult to say whether that is his preferred formation, an adaptation to New York, necessity, or some combination of all those factors.
“We tried to exploit the potential of the players,” said Guyot, highlighting Ryan Telfer as a player who could challenge the depth of New York with his dangerous runs behind the backline.
It also mirrored the change in the first team’s formation, though like Vanney, Guyot sees such shorthand as antiquated.
“We used to talk a lot about system, but when you have the ball it doesn’t exist any more,” said Guyot. “It’s more how you are going to make yourself available for your teammate that is important.”
And options are limited at the moment as well.
“We don’t have a lot of defenders, just two centre-backs,” pointed out Guyot. “So to play with three at the back is tough.”
This side did re-sign defender Lars Eckenrode on Friday adding another centre-back to the group.
With the first team off during the international break, there is the potential for players to be available, but Vanney was coy on that possibility: “Not many. We had nine guys at training today and six of them internationals themselves. We don’t have many guys to offer.”
“The group is thin right now,” continued Vanney. “We also have a group going to the Dallas Cup. We’re thin across the board. Laurent is going to be making due for the most part.”
Could assistant coach Robin Fraser be signed on an emergency one-day contract?
“It’s possible,” joked Vanney. “We’ll have to keep a couple guys back from the Dallas Cup to make sure roster is supplemented appropriately.”
For those so inclined, I was a guest on a couple of podcasts this week, again both looking back at the match in New York and ahead to the one in Charlotte.
Duane Rollins and I spoke on Monday after the loss in New York for USL Radio, while the good folks from Talkin’ Jacks, a Charlotte-based show, had me on to talk TFC II on Thursday. Check them out.