Following an unexpected bye-week, Toronto FC II returns to the pitch on Saturday afternoon when they travel to Pittsburgh to face the Riverhounds at Highmark Stadium – Kickoff is set for 3 p.m.
Unfortunately for the Young Reds, hopes of a home opener were dashed for a second straight week when it was revealed that the pitch at BMO Field had been rendered unplayable by the inclement weather during Tuesday night’s Concacaf Champions League match between the first team and Club America, forcing the side to surrender the date to Pittsburgh.
Similar concerns the previous week saw their match against Ottawa Fury FC cancelled as well, meaning they must wait another few weeks before kicking off their home schedule – the next fixture is set for Wednesday, April 18 against North Carolina FC. Though it too may be in doubt should TFC progress to the Champions League Final.
TFC II looked to make the most of the unexpected open window by travelling to Ottawa for a friendly against the Fury, which they won 2-0 with both goals scored by Ryan Telfer.
“Another game, first win; unfortunately without points,” said Laurent Guyot on Wednesday. “But a much better game, especially defensively. Now, it’s can we do the same thing the next game; have the same level of performance, even if Pittsburgh is really different from Ottawa in their style of play.”
Right-back Tim Kubel said the additional 90 minutes provided, “some good insights; some valuable lessons.” And midfielder Malik Johnson added that the win, “gives us confidence going into this weekend.”
Pitch woes aside, it has been a difficult start to the season for TFC II. The roster came together late, preparations for the Dallas Cup saw several players preoccupied, and opportunities for preseason matches were few.
“As I said before, we didn’t play a lot of exhibition games,” said Guyot. “Now it’s been five games, we start to have an idea of what we want to do, with which players we can play.”
Speaking after the Charlotte match, Guyot pointed out something that may have been lost in the 2-0 defeat: “Maybe I’m going to surprise some people, but for me our game in Charlotte was better than in New York.”
“We conceded less goal-scoring opportunities,” explained Guyot. “The two goals were situations you can manage better with experience, better knowledge of the game. With young players it’s a big challenge. With the ball we were better, even if didn’t get a lot of goal-scoring opportunities.”
With that in mind, Guyot has had an extra two weeks and an additional 90 minutes to focus on, “areas we have to improve: with and without the ball. We have to be able, step-by-step, to become better; playing games helps.”
“I’m really focused on what we do with the ball,” stressed Guyot. “As long as you have the ball, the opponent doesn’t. It’s obvious; you don’t have to defend close to your net.”
“[The challenge] is how are you going to use the ball, especially in your own half. When you want to play, when you want to make passes, you have to be able to keep the ball,” continued Guyot. “When you lose the ball, it’s dangerous.”
It’s finding that “balance” between keeping the ball, threatening forward, all while maintaining shaping should possession be lost that is key.
With Toronto FC III back from Dallas, Guyot finally has the majority of the roster at his disposal.
Dante Campbell, Julian Dunn, Malyk Hamilton, Shaan Hundal, Noble Okello, and Rocco Romeo were all in Dallas.
In addition, Lars Eckenrode, who was re-signed in the last few weeks, may be available. Jelani Peters is still a ways away, though he was spotted doing rehab in the horrendous wind and snow that pelted the city on Wednesday.
“A lot of players eligible for the game,” said Guyot of the choices ahead of him. “They would [all] like to play. It’s a competition; you have to win your spot. The best players are going to play. No matter what happened the last two years, the players who help the team win are going to play.”
In search of their first points of the season, TFC II travel to Pittsburgh, where they will face the difficult task of scoring against a stingy team: both of the Riverhounds matches this year have ended in 0-0 draws.
And history has not been kind either, in seven meetings all-time, TFC II is yet to win, with a record of five losses and two draws.
But with that friendly win in Ottawa, TFC II are optimistic about their chances.
“We’re looking forward to the Pittsburgh game,” said Johnson. “Trying to get our first win of the season. They’re a very powerful side, got a lot of big bodies on their team. If we move the ball quick, exploit the game plan, then we’ll be fine.”
Added Kubel: “They’re really tactical, stay close together. We’ll try and exploit their weaknesses. It’s going to be a good game.”
Once again, kickoff is set for 3 p.m. and the match can be streamed on YouTube:
For those wanting a little more coverage of TFC II, I was lucky enough to be a guest on a couple of podcasts this week.
Specific to the Pittsburgh match, the good folks at Mon Goals had me on to talk about TFC II and the upcoming game. The show can be found here and many thanks to Justin Ashcraft for leading the way, and providing some excellent information on the Riverhounds for those listening in Toronto. Unfortunately, co-host Michael Sparks was unable to join us
Also, Mitchell Tierney welcomed me onto the Footy Talks Pod, including a segment on TFC II.