At the third attempt, Toronto FC II are finally set to open up their home campaign in earnest on Wednesday night when they host North Carolina FC at BMO Field – kickoff is set for 8 P.M.
Not only will they be looking to kick start a season that has seen them lose all three matches thus far, but they will also be aiming to put the disappointment of defeat in Pittsburgh firmly in the rear-view mirror.
Relocated on short notice, TFC II went into Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh in good spirits a week and a half ago. Having managed the first half well enough, they conceded four goals in the second.
For Laurent Guyot, there were few positives to takeaway.
“Honestly, not a lot,” said the TFC II coach on Monday. “The game in Pittsburgh was poor, except maybe the first half. Even if we didn’t concede many goal-scoring opportunities, with the ball it was poor.”
“And the second half we were not at the level,” continued Guyot. “That’s the reason we lost 4-0. We cannot be happy in any way with game against Pittsburgh.”
Returning home, braced for the next challenge, Guyot will be watching “the character and the reaction of the players”, as they look to bounce back from defeat.
“It’s not a question of desire to compete or mentality,” explained Guyot. “When you play a game you have to take the responsibilities, defensively, but more with the ball. You cannot be shy, cannot be scared to make mistakes.”
“In this aspect we were poor,” said Guyot. “If you don’t play, you leave the opportunity to the opponent to get the game. [That] is what happened.”
Said midfielder Luca Uccello of the defeat: “It’s not what we wanted. The game plan we had was the right one, we just didn’t execute on the day.”
“There were a few occasions where we tried to high press them,” explained Uccello. “Sometimes it worked out nicely, sometimes it didn’t. Going into the second half, we had a few chances in transition to punish them and we didn’t. And then we got punished in the second half.”
“At this level you can’t let up,” said Uccello. “The difference between the first half and second was a matter of concentration and sticking as a team; trying to get a result away.”
“It’s a time to rebound here, at BMO Field, on Wednesday,” added Uccello. “Work hard and put on a performance for our home fans.”
With three losses to start the season, outscored 8-1 in the process, Guyot knows what his side needs to do to get on the front foot as a stop-start April leads into a hectic May – TFC II has six matches scheduled next month.
“I would like to see some consistency defensively,” said Guyot. “In three games we took eight goals. If you have to score three or four goals each game it’s complicated to win.”
“The defensive aspect has to be better. We need the commitment of everyone,” urged Guyot. “It’s time for the players to understand [that without] the commitment of eleven players it is not possible to compete. We knew from the beginning we are one of the youngest teams in the league, if you don’t play like a team, especially defensively, you cannot compete.”
“We’ll see,” added Guyot. “When you’re young you can make mistakes, but in this business you have to learn quickly.”
What better cure for a tough start than a bit of the old home-cooking?
“Any time you get to play in stadium like that, it’s huge, especially in front of the fans, on that field, in that stadium. It all comes together there,” said Uccello. “It doesn’t take much to get up for a game like that. We’re really excited to perform.”
The first two home matches on the schedule were not played due to the struggles of getting the pitch in shape through an interminable winter.
The first, against Ottawa Fury FC, was rescheduled to Wednesday, September 26 at Lamport Stadium. And the second, against the Riverhounds, was played in Pittsburgh instead.
“We’re looking forward to playing for the first time in Toronto,” said Guyot. “It’s always a positive thing to play in your stadium, to have some point of reference, especially at BMO [Field]. For the players, it can give them the taste of what it is with the first [team].”
Lining up opposite them will be North Carolina FC, one of the clubs that made the switch from NASL to USL in the offseason. Based out of Cary, North Carolina, they were formerly known as the Carolina RailHawks: the name change was made at the end of the 2016 season, part of a plan to contend for an MLS franchise.
NCFC will be coming into town on a high, having picked up their first win through four matches on the weekend, defeating in-state rivals, the Charlotte Independence, 0-2 on the road.
The match is the first of a two-game Canadian road trip for the visitors, as they will play Ottawa on Saturday.
Of note for TFC fans, Kyle Bekker will be making his return to BMO Field.
Bekker signed in the offseason with North Carolina having won the 2017 NASL SoccerBowl with the San Francisco Deltas, only for the team to be disbanded days later. The Oakville-native was drafted by TFC in 2013.
Speaking with USLsoccer.com defender Steven Miller said: “These games are usually trap games.”
“You come off huge games, beating your rival, and play a team that’s at the bottom of the league. However, we know what it’s like to have zero points: their backs are against the ropes, just like ours were. They’re going to come out swinging. It’s all about matching their energy from the beginning.”
The match will be streamed on YouTube, though it is highly recommended that readers make their way to BMO Field for some live action.
TFC II too know they will be in for a battle.
“They won on the weekend against Charlotte. They’re an older team, experienced,” outlined Uccello. “We’ll look over video, see what they’re good at, what they’re not good at and try to exploit their weaknesses.”
“But ultimately it’s about us,” stressed Uccello. “We’ve got to focus on what we do best, how we can perform as a team and bring it on Wednesday.”