Toronto FC II dropped their fourth-straight match on Saturday night, losing 2-1 to the Charlotte Independence on Saturday night at the Sportsplex at Matthews in North Carolina.
Jorge Herrera scored from the penalty spot in the first half and Eamon Zayed added a nifty back-post header in the second. Jordan Faria pulled one back for TFC II in the closing stages, part of a late push from the side, but it was not enough as Charlotte wins the ‘bonus home match’ after the venue was moved from a still-recovering BMO Field.
With the side back on the pitch just days removed from that epic 5-4 shootout defeat in Atlanta on Wednesday, Laurent Guyot made several changes to his starting eleven.
Rocco Romeo and Kyle Bjornethun were inserted in the back-line in place of Robert Boskovic and Tim Kubel, respectively. Both Gideon Waja and Noble Okello were on the bench, as the midfield composition was shuffled: Matt Srbely, Dante Campbell, and Malik Johnson joined Aidan Daniels and Luca Uccello. Srbely and Campbell took up the deepest roles, with Uccello slightly more advancedcentrally; Daniels and Johnson took up the left and right flanks.
Up top, Ayo Akinola, after his strong outing, remained the sole striker, while between the posts, 18-year old Gianluca Catalano stayed in goal.
Catalano was in the middle of the action from the get go, picking up a yellow card in the 11th minute when he rushed off his line, bundling over Sam Vines. Were it not for a covering defender, it could have been worse.
The aggressive play from the keeper would prove costly in the 27th minute when a benign ball into the area skipped up off of Johnson and looped towards goal. Catalano read it and looked to collect, but so too did Herrera, who beat the keeper to the touch and was brought down, prompting the referee to point to the spot.
The wily veteran coolly slotted his penalty kick down the middle as Catalano dove to his left to give Charlotte the advantage.
Toronto likes their keepers to be aggressive and Catalano did not shy away from performing those duties. Four minutes after the penalty, Alex Martinez plays Zayed down the right-side of the box and Catalano was quick off his line once more to mop up the chance.
As has been a theme with TFC II of late, the matter of slow starts has been costly. Saturday was the fifth time this season that the opponent has scored first; Toronto has lost all five.
That trend struck again in the second half when Mutaya Mwape was allowed time to send a cross to the back-post from the right, picking out Zayed who had gotten free from his marker to place a tidy header across goal and in at the far-side to double the hosts lead in the 49th minute.
Twice against Atlanta back-side awareness lead to goal. To see it strike again on the Zayed goal will drive Guyot mad.
Despite the scoresheet, Toronto were dangerous in moments throughout the opening hour. Johnson was a driving force going forward, helping to craft their best chance in the 14th minute when he ate up ground and found Srbely in the box. His shot was blocked, but fell to Uccello arriving in the area. Unfortunately, he lost his footing, negating the window for an attempt and was forced to touch back towards Srbely; his ball for Johnson down the outside was beyond reach.
Akinola, who was involved in three of the four TFC II goals in Atlanta, was dangerous once more, nearly opening the scoring with a low drive from range that skipped wide of the left-post after a neat slip-turn in midfield opened up a lane.
The big striker then got on the end of a Daniels cross from the left, but could not direct his header on goal. Daniels gave his counterpart nightmares down the flank once more, but could not repeat the exploits of midweek.
And even after Charlotte doubled their lead Toronto were still threatening, such as when Akinola was slipped down the right-side of the box by Johnson in the 55th after a lovely turn from Srbely began the move, only for Andrew Dykstra to come up with a massive face save.
At the other end, Catalano came up equally big to deny Martinez on several occasions.
Much as the slow starts have been characteristic, so too have late surges.
Down two, Toronto sparked to life, as Guyot went to his bench, bringing on Luca Petrasso and Faria in the 56th minute for Akinola and Johnson.
Uccello appeared to have his heels clipped when he had gotten behind the Charlotte defenders, but the referee was having none of it, much to his chagrin. And Srbely was unleashed from his holding role, allowed to surge forward with what is fast becoming his trademark style. He too went down at the edge of the area, only to not have his cries heeded: admittedly, contact was minimal, but his path to goal was impeded.
Toronto would get their goal in the 66th minute when Srbely played towards Petrasso. He, in turn, played down the left for Bjornethun, who flung a cross towards the back-post, where the 17-year old Faria got his right boot to the ball, forcing it over the line.
In search of an equalizer and with both sides tiring, the match got extremely stretched and a little sloppy. Petrasso had a lovely run down the left, but his ball to the back-post was overhit and sailed out.
There were half chances at each end, but neither side could find the goal that would change the circumstances.
Campbell was named man of the match, putting in a yeoman’s shift in the middle of the park, connecting the attack and shutting down lanes, harrying the Charlotte attackers for 90 minutes-plus. It is unclear whether his move from right-back to midfield is a permanent switch, or just something the club wanted to have a look at. His willingness to compete, his tenacity, and his mix of defensive nous and attacking potential make him as interesting a candidate in the middle as on the outside.
Toronto are scheduled to return home for their next match, welcoming the Tampa Bay Rowdies to BMO Field on Saturday, May 26.