Back on the pitch a week on from a home defeat against Penn FC, falling 1-0 at Monarch Park, Toronto will be looking to turn the page on a disappointing afternoon and build off the momentum that has been slowly turning in their favour in recent weeks.
Stung by the way the Penn match played out – a red card to Shaan Hundal in the first half, Angelo Cavalluzzo coming up huge to save a penalty kick, only to concede on a hail-mary attempt from range and come up injured in the process – TFC II have been working diligently over the past week.
“Shore up the defence,” was assistant coach Chris Pozniak’s response when asked what has been the emphasis in training. “Keep working on things we did well in the previous game and stick to the process.”
Though it has yet to show in the results, that process has seen green shoots emerging from the dry earth.
Since the 4-0 loss to Pittsburgh at the start of April, a match that infuriated Laurent Guyot, all five matches have been, or could have been in the case of the scoreless draws, decided by a single goal.
Part of that is the defensive solidity Guyot and company have drilled into the side.
“The team has played much better since,” said Pozniak. “The tricky part is we haven’t gotten the results to justify to the players, so they start to believe that changes have been made and they’re really playing well.”
Pozniak relayed an analogy Guyot made to the side this week: “The wheel has been going in the wrong direction. Before you can turn it the other way, it’s got to slow down, stop, and then it slowly goes in your favour.”
In the professional game where the margins are thin, it takes ‘little details’ to turn the tide to one’s advantage.
“Step-by-step,” urged Pozniak. “It’s one thing at a time.”
Aidan Daniels has noticed that shift since the heavy defeat: “After the North Carolina game, we got rolling, got our feet wet.”
“We’re a lot more confident after that,” continued Daniels. “[That], within a young team, is always good. Now, it’s just becoming efficient in the final third and converting our chances.”
With their first visit to Georgia on the docket, Toronto will be looking to nab their first win of the season. That southern heat be damned.
“It’s nothing serious,” dismissed Daniels. “We’ve just got to go out there, play our game and do our thing.”
Having gotten results in their first four matches – including a debut win over New York Red Bulls II at home and a draw on the road against the Charlotte Independence, Atlanta have found points more difficult to come by of late, losing their last four and winless since that opening day victory, a span of seven matches.
A 2-0 defeat against the Ottawa Fury FC on Saturday saw the Fury leapfrog Atlanta, leaving them in second-to-last spot in the Eastern Conference, four points ahead of TFC. And Atlanta will be without the services of two key players, as Andrew Carleton and Chris Goslin have been called into the US U-20 camp.
Whenever a pair of MLS sides meet at the USL level, it makes for an interesting match. With such youth in play, energy is plentiful, the action can be fast and furious; mistakes follow, leading to relatively open matches.
“We expect them to try to play,” foresaw Pozniak. “They play a good brand of soccer. Sometimes a little risky, so we expect some counterattacking opportunities and to play well ourselves.”
Added Daniels: “They’re a young team, we know that. It’s going to be a similar playing style to us. We’re ready for the challenge and looking to get after them.”
TFC II will be without Cavalluzzo, one of their most consistent players, for some time. News emerged on Monday that the goalkeeper suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon against Penn FC, that forced him from the pitch.
Expect to see one of Caleb Patterson-Sewell, MLS SuperDraft pick Drew Shephard, or TFC III’s Gianluca Catalano take up the position. WTR spoke to Alex Bono about the injury to Cavalluzzo and his take on the two youngest options, Shephard and Catalano on Tuesday – look for those in a future post.
And, the obstacles keep coming for Toronto, as it was announced on Tuesday that the match scheduled for BMO Field on Saturday against Charlotte, will instead be moved to North Carolina, as the pitch continues to recover from a rough start to the year.
Hundal will be suspended after his red card, but there is some hope that centre-back Jelani Peters will be ready in time to make his season debut. Either way, TFC II will be looking to Daniels to continue to lead them.
The 19-year old midfielder has been a driving force this season.
“He’s really been good for us,” said Pozniak. “He’s been captain a few games, taken on that responsibility; gotten a game in MLS.”
Signing that first team deal has “given him a boost, shown he is in the plans,” according to Pozniak. Daniels has cut a more imposing figure, sweeping forward from his right-sided position to threaten the opponents goal.
It is always difficult for a teenager to go toe-to-toe with the grizzled veterans that populate USL, but in his third season in the league, Daniels has grown and heeded the advice of his coaches to be more physical.
“Absolutely,” said Pozniak. “Asserts himself more in games; he’s taken that on board.”
Last season, more recognizable for his silky runs and deft interplay, this year, Daniels is looking to add more end product to his ever-expanding game.
“More goals and assists,” declared Daniels. “Last year I didn’t score. Scoring more, helping the team create more chances, from there we’ll get results.”
He already has one to his name this season, even if he did have to nick the ball off the foot of his teammate Hundal to get it.
Asked if the striker gave him any stick for snatching away that chance, Daniels, although seeming to smirk internally, deadpanned: “Nah, he had a bad touch, so I just took it.”
Once more, kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and the match will be streamed on YouTube.