Toronto FC II hit the road midweek for the first 2018 edition of the Ontario derby on Wednesday night when they face off against Ottawa Fury FC at TD Place Stadium – kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
On the heels of a 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rowdies at BMO Field last Saturday, Laurent Guyot and his side will be looking to change their fortunes with the big clash against their provincial rivals.
On a five-match losing skid, Guyot is hoping the side can piece together the two sides of the game, offensive and defensive. Individually, Toronto has shown their capability at both ends, but getting them working in unison has proved elusive this season.
In isolation, the side has shown improvements at both ends: having struggled at the back through the early goings, conceding eight goals through the opening three matches, Guyot stressed the importance of shoring up the defensive aspects.
Toronto did that, allowing just two goals through the next three matches – where they collected their first points of the season via a pair of 0-0 draws – and five through as many games.
But over that same spell they scored just twice.
The next task was to get the offence going, which they did in Atlanta, scoring four goals in a single match, more than they had all season to that point. TFC II has scored in their last three outings and in four of the last five.
As they went in search of goals, however, the solidity at the back vanished, conceding 11 through 270 minutes of football.
“This team so far is like a puzzle,” said Guyot post-match. “And we don’t put together all the different pieces. Sometimes you have the half puzzle done, and you might be happy because it’s a good situation, but you never have the full puzzle. It’s an issue.”
One thing is clear, according to Guyot: “I’m not happy about the last three games, not happy defensively, about the management of defensive phases.’
Getting both aspects of the game going at the same time will be the challenge ahead.
“How do you win if you take so many goals?” wondered Guyot aloud, before answering his own question. “It’s not possible.”
“The beginning of the game was good, we got a good chance. We didn’t score unfortunately because the save from the keeper was amazing,” continued Guyot, referring to Luca Uccello’s wonderful attempt that was parried. “The spirit is good: we were able to be back to 2-2, but there are too many situations defensively and tactically we don’t manage very well. It was a tough game for Tampa, but we gave them too many situations to be dangerous.”
Centre-back Rocco Romeo saw it as an “interesting” match.
“We obviously didn’t get the start we wanted; being down 2-0 at half was a big mountain to climb,” continued Romeo. “When we did come back, at 2-2, we had the momentum with us. We were on a roll, pressing, changed formation, things were going our way. And then we had a little slip up, some immature mistakes.”
Both that willingness to fight back and the glaring mistakes have also been signatures of TFC II in recent weeks.
While it is good to not let heads drop, a strong mentality can only get you so far if you keep shooting yourself in the foot. Against Atlanta United 2, three times TFC II pulled level, but each time allowed Atlanta to re-take the lead. Having battled back to 2-2 against Tampa Bay, yet another missed mark at the back-post proved fatal.
“I know [we’re resilient], but you cannot run behind the opponent every game. Sooner or later you won’t have the energy to do it,” said Guyot. “There are too many simple situations we are not able to manage. What is important at this age is to understand and to see improvements. The last three games I saw improvement when we have the ball, but defensively I didn’t.”
No doubt he will be looking for a response from his players as they head up to Ottawa.
A complete performance is the aim.
“Moving forward, looking at the film, we’ve been improving as a team,” said Romeo. “We’re looking forward to getting a big result [in Ottawa].”
And there have been plenty of bright spots: Ayo Akinola has looked good in his two recent outings, Jordan Faria scored against Charlotte and Luca Petrasso helped create the first goal against Tampa Bay, Malik Johnson nabbed his first goal of the season, much deserved for the effort he has put in, and Uccello has been very impressive, scoring twice against Atlanta and setting up Johnson’s goal against Tampa Bay.
Dante Campbell too has brought a new dimension, a different flavour to the midfield. His hustle in the area led to Toronto’s first against the Rowdies, being in the right place to force an own-goal and spur the comeback.
“Dante has a big character within the team,” explained Romeo. “He’s a very active guy, very talkative within the group; has a unique spark. He’s good at taking information, listening from the back-line, good on ball, good speed. I really like his aggression: sets the tone right away, brings guys up even in moments that aren’t going our way. He’s doing very well.”
After Wednesday, there are a couple of long breaks on the horizon, where Guyot will be able to focus on those aforementioned shortcomings as the side prepares for the next phase of the season. But up first: Ottawa.
Fury FC enter the midweek match on 12 points from ten matches with a record of three wins and four losses to sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, five spots above TFC II.
Winless through their opening six, Nikola Popovic’s side has found their form of late, going unbeaten through five matches – a spell over which they have not conceded a goal, outscoring opponents 4-0 with a pair of scoreless draws – and will be feeling particularly good following a 1-0 win at home over high-flying Bethlehem Steel FC last Friday.
Home has been a strength for Ottawa this season, losing just one of the five games they have played there, collecting eight points with two wins and two draws.
Goals though, have been rare: the Fury have scored just six all season and nobody on the side has chipped in more than one.
There will be some familiar names in and around the lineup, as former TFC products Nana Attakora and Chris Mannella both moved to Ottawa in the offseason. Another former Red, Doniel Henry, has been there on loan, but reports indicate he has returned to Vancouver Whitecaps FC having played three matches for the Fury.
And, of course, Julian de Guzman is the Fury’s general manager.
In the three meetings between the sides last season, results were split, each side winning once at home and the first, in Ottawa, ending in a scoreless draw.
The 1-0 TFC II win provided one of the moments of the season, Uccello scoring a lovely goal on a quick counter.
Toronto will once more be without Aidan Daniels, Julian Dunn, and Noble Okello, who drew 0-0 against Portugal in Canada’s first Toulon Tournament match on Monday.
And worth noting, the two sides should be rather familiar with each other, having played several friendlies in recent months.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be streamed on YouTube (below):
It could be just what Toronto FC II need to jump start their season.
“We expect Ottawa to be a very good team,” said Romeo. “They have some speed up top, good at moving the ball, confident, buzzing the ball around the middle. Our job is to stop them; hopefully get a big result against our rivals.”