Toronto FC II will look to take the positives from Wednesday’s raucous 5-4 loss in Atlanta and leave the rest behind as they head to North Carolina for a match against the Charlotte Independence on Saturday evening – kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
The match against Atlanta United 2 was indeed a wild one; odd for many reasons: TFC II scoring goals aplenty, where they have struggled previously; conceding just as readily, where they had been solid of late. As always, there were lessons to be had. One suspects the plan will be to take the confidence garnered from finding the back of the net with such ease and to tighten up the defensive aspects that proved so costly.
Heading into Charlotte, TFC II will once more be without the services of Shaan Hundal, who received a two-match suspension for his red card against Penn FC last week. Gianluca Catalano did well in his first taste of USL action this season, but do not be surprised if Drew Shephard gets his on the weekend. Laurent Guyot will want both keepers to be blooded with Angelo Cavalluzzo’s long-term injury.
With the emergence of several young players over the last few weeks – Luca Petrasso, Dante Campbell, Steffen Yeates, Kunle Dada-Luke, and Jordan Faria – even with the injury crisis at the first team plucking out several potential starters – Liam Fraser, Ryan Telfer, Mariano Mino, Jordan Hamilton, and Ben Spencer – Guyot is beginning to have plenty of options at his disposal.
One of the more interesting ones to watch for Saturday will be the central midfield three and whether, he opts for the more defensive outlook of Noble Okello, Gideon Waja, and Luca Uccello or if Matt Srbely is fielded for one of the more defensive-first duo (Okello and Waja). That has been the tell for TFC II, on whether going forward or protecting the back has been the emphasis on any given day.
In Charlotte, TFC II will be facing a familiar opponent, as the sides met back on March 24 at the same Sportsplex at Matthews pitch. The Independence won the day 2-0 with the savvy veteran Jorge Herrera and Caleb Calvert scoring in the first half.
This match was originally scheduled to be played at BMO Field, but the continued ill-health of the pitch forced its relocation.
Coming in on a three-game losing skid, Toronto will be hoping to turn their fortunes. Though the all-time record of one win and three losses in seven encounters is less than encouraging, they can take heart from a pair of results against the then high-flying Jacks last season, where TFC II won 3-2 at Charlotte and drew 2-2 at home.
Head coach Mike Jeffries has his side sitting in tenth spot in the Eastern Conference with 11 points after eight matches, with three each of wins and losses and a pair of draws. Much of their success has come at home, all of their points in fact, with a trio of wins and two draws – a state-derby loss to North Carolina FC their only home defeat of the season.
But having finished fifth last season before getting knocked out of the playoffs in the First Round by the Rochester Rhinos after extra time, this year has been somewhat of a struggle.
A 4-1 home win over FC Cincinnati on Saturday ended a five-match winless run that stretched all the way back to that win over Toronto in the second game of the campaign. And they were abruptly bounced from the US Open Cup on Wednesday, losing 3-1, at home no less, to a PDL side, the Ocean City Nor’easters.
No doubt they will be looking to make the most of this ‘bonus home game’ given the circumstances. Should be a good one.
“We’re expecting a very experienced team with some seasoned players, veterans,” said TFC II assistant coach Chris Pozniak earlier this week. “Very physical, full-backs getting forward. Similar to Atlanta, lots of good counterattacking opportunities for us.”
Toronto was excellent at exposing the frailties in Atlanta’s defences on Wednesday, if they can do the same on Saturday, Charlotte’s woes could be compounded.
TFC II have improved over the ensuing months and the March loss will have provided instruction on what to expect and what to shore up ahead of Saturday’s rematch.
“Go over some of the mistakes from that game: push the line a little higher,” explained Pozniak of how Toronto would be preparing. “We feel we’ve grown since that game and we’re a lot better. Better structured defensively, more compact, and braver going forward. Harp on those; should lead to a better result.”
One of the noticeable differences over the past weeks is that where Toronto would tend to come out quickly (the impetuousness of youth), only to fade come the later stages, now they have surged in those closing portions. Conceding early has been a problem, but ensuring the side has their legs under them for the entire match is a step forward.
“It’s a big jump from the youth level in every respect,” said Pozniak. “Physicality is one of those. They don’t realize how much energy is exerted.”
“It’s not enough to be on for 60-70 minutes, you have to go 90-95 plus, whatever it takes,” continued Pozniak. “They’re starting to realize that. We’re pushing them harder in training in those key moments towards the end of sessions. It’s good that it’s showing.”
Having scored in the last match, it will be interesting to see if Uccello and Ayo Akinola can carry that dynamic attacking potential into the weekend. Srbely is due for another goal given his strong play since returning from injury, while Malik Johnson could use one as well.
But for sure, Aidan Daniels will be a driving force once more, as he has been all season.
“Laurent has been challenging me to get in the box, get myself into scoring opportunities,” said Daniels, looking to prepare himself for MLS play. “That’s a big thing for me: to be more efficient in USL, contributing more.”
Once more, kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night and the match will be streamed on YouTube (below).
TFC II will then have a full week to prepare themselves for their next match on Saturday, March 26 when they are set to welcome the Tampa Bay Rowdies to BMO Field. No word yet on whether that match too will have to be moved, but keep the ears peeled just in case.
And the Wednesday after, Toronto head up to the nation’s capital to face Ottawa Fury FC in the first Ontario derby of the year.