The Young Reds are back in action on Saturday evening as they get set to square off against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in their first home match at Rochester’s Marina Auto Stadium – kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
The two sides met back on April 7, technically a TFC II home match that was moved to Pittsburgh due to the pitch conditions at BMO Field, where the Riverhounds offensive floodgates opened with four second half goals, including three from Neco Brett, en route to a 4-0 win
It was a stinging defeat that did not sit well with Laurent Guyot.
In the ensuing days he said he would be watching ‘the character and the reaction of his players’ as they looked to respond from the heavy loss. Adding, “When you play a game you have to take the responsibilities, defensively, but more with the ball. You cannot be shy, cannot be scared to make mistakes.”
Since then, the side has looked much better.
They responded to the coach’s demands with their best performance of the year to that point in a 0-0 draw against North Carolina FC and then started brightly in Richmond against the Kickers, before a pair of mistakes proved costly in a 2-1 defeat.
With another 0-0 at BMO Field last weekend, this time against New York Red Bulls II, TFC II seemed to have found some defensive stability upon which to build their season.
Post-match, Guyot said: “I’m happy about the point, of course; to have a clean sheet, especially against New York.”
“I may be happier about the fact that we didn’t concede too many goalscoring opportunities,” continued Guyot. “It’s a big performance. We played in New York and even though we were leading the game and were close to scoring a second goal, [we allowed] too many situations for New York. [Tonight was] a very good defensive performance.”
“I’m expecting more with the ball, but I guess it’s going to come with the confidence,” added Guyot. “With games like that, hopefullly we’re going to take confidence because we need to improve.”
The shadow of last season’s struggles in front of goal loom over a side that has yet to score at home and has only two tallies through six matches, but for Guyot and company, that will come with time.
Following an abbreviated preseason, Toronto has had a tendency to grow weary over the course of the 90 minutes – see the losses against New York and Pittsburgh as well as the late flurry endured against North Carolina as examples. The opposite was true against New York this time around; perhaps an indication that fitness has grown to where it needs to be. Still, focusing on being solid defensively takes a toll.
“We spend a lot of energy to recover the ball,” said Guyot. “When you get it you’re tired, you’re breathing and it’s not easy.”
He believes the goals will come with “a better awareness, understanding of the game, and knowledge between the players,” especially as a consistent starting eleven is beginning to take shape.
“I needed information from this game on the competitiveness,” said Guyot. “I told them at the beginning of the game, sometimes we’re too soft. I had good answers tonight.”
TFC II will be looking to continue that progress as they travel to Rochester for the rematch against the Riverhounds.
Assistant coach Chris Pozniak explained the changes since that last encounter: “We shored up the back line a little bit; focused on not conceding goals and building our attacking play from solidity in defence.”
“So far, so good,” continued Pozniak. “We’ve given up few chances, which was a goal of ours. We’re hoping to continue with that.”
One of those consistent performers has been defender Brandon Onkony, who has started the last three matches. Having missed much of last season through injury, Onkony returned and has adapted well to his new position as an outside back, even displaying a strikers’ finish against the Red Bulls that was whistled offside.
“He has grown into the role,” said Pozniak of his transition. “He has all the tools necessary to succeed there, and he’s taking it on as an opportunity. He has the ability to attack from there; he is enjoying that role and it shows in his play.”
And further reinforcements could be on their way as both Jelani Peters and Matt Srbely are back in training.
“Both are day-to-day, but they are progressing well,” said Pozniak of their availability for Saturday. “Hopefully they will be available for selection soon.”
Pittsburgh begins a busy month for TFC II with six matches scheduled. After the Rochester trip, they will play Penn FC at BMO Field on May 9 before hitting the road for a first-ever match against Atlanta United 2 on May 16.
Two more home matches at BMO Field – against the Charlotte Independence on May 18 and the Tampa Bay Rowdies on May 26 – lead into a May 30 trip to Ottawa to face the Fury in the first Ontario derby of the season.
The pair of 0-0 draws have been enough to lift TFC II off the bottom of the Eastern Conference – that pleasure goes to the Fury, who have the same two points through six matches, but have a significantly inferior goal-difference. But a first win of the season on Saturday would go a long way towards kicking off the month with a positive as the side looks to string together results.
Pittsburgh come into the match riding high, unbeaten through six matches and winners of three of the last four. Twelve points has the Riverhounds sitting near the top of the conference, tied for fourth with the Rowdies, and four points off the blistering pace of the Louisville City FC.
Toronto will aim to put all that hard work in training into practice.
“Taking care of the ball when we are in possession,” stressed Rocco Romeo. “Defensively we have been doing very well as a group, also individually. Winning our individual battles is the main thing for us, if we win [those] the game will be easy.”
“We have to be more aggressive as a whole,” added Romeo. “Being a younger team, going up against guys who are much older than us, we have to bring out that competitive spirit: challenge more in the air; on the ground. And contest them.”
Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. and the match can be streamed on YouTube below: