The road was unkind to Toronto FC II once more as they were unable to continue their run of strong outings against the Charlotte Independence, losing 2-0 on Saturday night at the Sportplex at Matthews in North Carolina.
Jorge Herrera opened the scoring in the 18th minute, walking into the area to beat Caleb Patterson-Sewell in goal and Caleb Calvert made it two in the 42nd minute, rising up at the back-post to meet a ball from Alex Martinez for a strong header.
It was a second consecutive away loss to start the 2018 USL season, having fallen 2-1 in New York the previous weekend.
Laurent Guyot made several changes to his starting eleven: Patterson-Sewell made his debut for the club, while the absence of Liam Fraser (on international duty with Canada) made space for Malik Johnson on the left-side of midfield with Luca Uccello dropping into that deeper central role, behind Matt Srbely and Aidan Daniels.
Up top, Jordan Hamilton’s availability saw him paired with Ben Spencer, forcing Ryan Telfer to the bench. Guyot was able to trot out an unchanged back-line of Tim Kubel, Rocco Romeo, Robert Boskovic, and Kyle Bjornethun.
Options were somewhat limited, however, with a handful of TFC II players in Texas with TFC III for the Dallas Cup.
Most disappointingly from an all-around listless match was the manner in which both goals were conceded.
The first, from the wily veteran Herrera, saw him back Romeo into the box down the left-channel before placing a right-footer that seemed to handcuff Patterson-Sewell to the near-side with virtually Charlotte’s first look at goal.
Not unlike the two goals in New York, there were elements of hesitance and uncertainty about each. Herrera cannot be allowed to walk in like that. Pressure needs to be applied, cover needs to be provided, and, undoubtedly, the keeper would have liked to have another go at keeping that one out.
The second came from another such instance of not seeing a play out. Kubel looked to usher Martinez out to the end-line, but consented to him getting a cross in, where Calvert was able to get in between Boskovic and Bjornethun to be on the end of the service.
On the whole, the side was more solid than last weekend, allowing just eight shots to Charlotte versus the 31 New York attempted. But with the end result of two goals against remaining the same, such improvement was a Pyrrhic victory.
For a second straight week, Aikim Andrews replaced Kubel at right-back in the second half, which is an interesting development. Andrews featured exclusively as a striker last season. It will be interesting to see if this is a change made of necessity or have TFC seen something in the Trinidadian that makes them think he fits what they want from the position.
As noted by the commentators, Toronto seemed a little slow, second to every ball and reacting rather than being proactive.
With Spencer and Hamilton up top, it was hoped that Toronto would at least be dangerous when the chances came, but the duo were largely starved of service.
The best chance of the evening came in the 39th minute when Hamilton was able to knock a ball down to Srbely, whose first time hit drew an excellent save out of Andrew Dykstra in the Charlotte goal.
Toronto actually outshot Charlotte on the night with ten attempts at goal, but Srbely’s was the only one that really threatened and the lone shot on target.
Johnson, making his season debut, showed all the trickery one has come to expect from him, drawing fouls with his mazey runs from midfield. On another night he may have won a penalty kick in the 79th minute when he was chopped down in the area, having burst towards goal from the left, but the referee was not persuaded to blow his whistle.
First glimpses were had at a pair of newcomers to the club in goalkeeper Patterson-Sewell and midfielder Gideon Waja.
Patterson-Sewell, as mentioned, will not be happy with the manner in which the first was conceded – he had no chance on the second – though he did come up huge in the 59th minute with a stunning diving save on Calvert to prevent Charlotte from padding their lead.
Waja came on in the 75th minute for Daniels, taking up the defensive midfield role from Uccello. In his limited time, there wasn’t a whole lot to note, though he did show himself to not be afraid of a tackle, getting stuck in with a hefty one.
Once more, as the clock ticked down, TFC II pressed aggressively for a way back into the game, putting together some nice stretches of possession and linking up neatly with a refreshing deliberateness - which was lacking through the opening hour, but were unable to really threaten as the rain poured down.
Charlotte maintain their winning start to the season, adding the 2-0 defeat of Toronto to a 4-1 win over Ottawa Fury FC last weekend, beating both Canadian sides in USL in successive weeks. The Independence currently top the Eastern Conference with six points and a plus-five goal differential, one better than the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Now Guyot and TFC II will look forward to the home opener on Saturday at BMO Field, where they will host Ottawa in the first Battle of Ontario this season at 7:30 p.m.