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TFC II drops third straight match in loss to Pittsburgh

The Riverhounds emphatically opened their account with a 4-0 win on Saturday over TFC II in USL action

TFC II’s Robert Boskovic tracks a Pittsburgh attack on Saturday at Highmark Stadium
Chris Cowger/Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Another tough day at the office for Toronto FC II as they lost 4-0 to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Saturday afternoon at Highmark Stadium.

Neco Brett scored a hat-trick in the second half and Christiano Francois rounded out the scoring late with a thunderous strike from range, assisted by Brett, as the Riverhounds got their first goals of the season following a pair of 0-0 draws.

Laurent Guyot again made several changes to his lineup: Angelo Cavalluzzo returned in goal, while the recently re-signed Lars Eckenrode lined up alongside Robert Boskovic in the middle of the back-line. At right-back, Aikim Andrews got the start ahead of Tim Kubel.

In midfield, Gideon Waja made his first start for the club having debuted in Charlotte off the bench, lining up centrally behind Luca Uccello, Matt Srbely, and Malik Johnson. And up top, Ryan Telfer returned to the starting eleven, pair with Daniel Da Silva who made his season debut.

Toronto barely threatened the Pittsburgh net – of their six shots, only one was on target – but at the middle of most of the good moves was Telfer, who has likely been their most consistent offensive player this season.

Johnson too looked good going forward with some regularity, but it was second half substitute Aidan Daniels who had the best chance of the match in stoppage-time, driving an effort on goal that required saving and seeing his follow-up attempt on the rebound blocked.

The Ghanaian midfielder Waja caught the eye in his debut last match, but Saturday saw him on the pitch for a full 90 minutes, allowing a better look at the defensive midfielder. He was very sound on the ball, showed good vision to switch the field, and was rather industrious. All told a strong outing; he will be one to keep an eye on this season.

Saturday also granted first looks at Da Silva and Eckenrode in the starting eleven, both put in a shift, but with Eckenrode in particular, who has only seen limited action the last year-plus having come back from a broken leg, there were some signs of rust.

Ayo Akinola and Jordan Faria got their first minutes off the bench, both looked lively, but were not able to make much of the cameo as the momentum of the match had clearly turned in Pittsburgh’s favour. Akinola did show bursts of his pace and physicality, which will be very interesting to keep an eye on as the season continues.

One curiosity emerging from the first three matches is the status of Shaan Hundal. The club’s leading goal-scorer last season has yet to feature for TFC II this year. Granted, he had a rather slow start last season as well, scoring the majority of his goals in the final eight or so matches of 2017, but for a side in need of attacking threats, his absence is peculiar.

Equally curious, was Andrews getting the nod at right-back over Kubel. The German himself has admitted that coming into the professional game from college has tested his fitness, so likely that was a factor, but Andrews has grown into the position. Nominally a striker, Guyot explained the club still had that in mind, but when Andrews mentioned he had played some right-back previously, it was worth having a look.

Andrews has been very active in that position, showing a confidence on the ball that can be quite advantageous in that position, especially at a club that values wing-back play the way TFC does. There are some defensive and positional issues in his game, but in a third appearance at the position, there were clear signs of progress.

He was named man of the match for his efforts.

That said, as has long been the case for TFC II, defensive errors proved costly.

Saturday was yet another example of the continuing theme: TFC II goes toe-to-toe with the opponent, but unable to make the most of the few chances they craft, eventually there is a breakdown at the other end which the opponent duly converts.

Pittsburgh had the majority of shots in the first half, but none of the seven threatened the goal. Toronto was keeping them at bay, but then come the 52nd minute, Toronto are caught facing forward when a long-ball is flung behind the backline.

Pittsburgh had the majority of shots in the first half, but none of the seven threatened the goal. Toronto was keeping them at bay, but then come the 52nd minute, Toronto are caught facing forward when a long-ball is flung behind the backline.

Eckenrode and the rest of the defenders a slow to react, possibly thinking it would race to Cavalluzzo to deal with, but the ball hangs up and Brett is in clear on goal. Eckenrode did well to get back and pressure, but the damage was already done.

On the second goal there was a similar amount of hesitation in recognizing the brewing trouble.

Eckenrode steps out of the backline to pressure Ben Zemanski on the ball, but in doing so has to leave Brett running off his should. A slipped ball and the striker is in for his second.

The third goal showed how important it is that as the unit moves up field, they maintain some semblance of a shape and communicate responsibilities as attacks develop. The saying ‘at sixs and sevens’ comes to mind in this goal, everybody reacts to the immediate instance in a cascading collapse that allows Brett to complete his hat-trick, tucking into an open net after some neat interplay with Andrew Lubahn saw his effort strike the base of the post.

Waja loses possession, catching Andrews out of position. Eckenrode steps to interdict, but Pittsburgh maintains the ball. Boskovic then steps to the next ball carrier, which opens a massive gap up the middle with both centre-backs caught forward for Lubahn to exploit. Kyle Bjornethun, the furthest defender from the play, is left to attempt a futile recovery.

And the fourth saw TFC II lose two aerial challenges before being sliced open by a single pass.

On all four goals, there is no one player responsible; it is a collective struggle.

Regardless of which level, it is the ability to make plays in the big moments that proves decisive at both ends of the pitch.

There are of course mitigating factors: an inconsistent lineup, early season fitness, and the like. Rest assured Guyot and his side will be examining these plays in depth during this week’s video sessions.

An archive of the match is available on YouTube.

Toronto has an extra few days before they return to the pitch, as they are scheduled to face North Carolina FC at BMO Field next Wednesday on April 18. Given the potential of a Concacaf Champions League match at that time, there is a possibility it too will be rescheduled.

They then hit the road for a match against the Richmond Kickers on April 25, before returning home to face New York Red Bulls II at BMO Field.