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Late Hundal strike and superb Mino performance not enough for TFC II against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Toronto FC II lose 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in first home match in Rochester on Saturday - the contributions of Mariano Mino, Ben Spencer, and Shaan Hundal come to the forefront

USL Photo - TFC II’s Mariano Mino was a force in the midfield in Saturday’s 2-1 loss against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in Rochester
Mariano Mino was sublime in the middle of the park on Saturday against the Riverhounds
Matt Wittmeyer

In their first of four matches to be played in Rochester this season, Toronto FC II fell 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Saturday.

Neco Brett, who scored a hat-trick in the last meeting, netted the first after twelve minutes and Kevin Kerr added a second in the 36th minute before Shaan Hundal grabbed some late consolation for the Young Reds at Marina Auto Stadium.

Laurent Guyot shook up his lineup at both ends, inserting Caleb Patterson-Sewell in goal and Ben Spencer up top. In the middle of the park a further change saw Luca Uccello take up a central role alongside Mariano Mino.

In his quest for stability, Guyot has sought to run out consistent lineups in recent weeks: the back-line of (from right to left) Brandon Onkony, Julian Dunn, Robert Boskovic, and Kyle Bjornethun has more-or-less been intact several matches – Dunn has shared the left centre-back spot with Rocco Romeo.

The one significant alteration in the middle of the park was the breaking up of the Nobel Okello-Gideon Waja partnership which has been a strength. Though it was replaced by another intriguing central duo – Uccello and Mino – with more attacking potential. Aidan Daniels and Malik Johnson maintained their wide roles.

Interestingly, the broadcast made note prior to the match that with 28 different players seeing minutes already in the young season, TFC II holds the distinction of having fielded the most in USL.

Toronto began the match well, advancing up field for a half-chance inside the opening few minutes. Much of the attack on the night came through Mino, who was excellent throughout, displaying both his attacking abilities and a good amount of defensive work.

He was the driving force in a quick counter off a Pittsburgh corner, then slipped a ball to Spencer down the right after bursting up the middle – his shot was saved by Riverhounds keeper Dan Lynd, and nearly picked out another excellent run from the big forward with a lovely cross, only for a Pittsburgh defender to head it away at the last moment.

The Argentine then set up an Okello shot with another slipped ball down the right-channel – it was blocked. Come the second half, Mino nearly scored one of his own, clipping a deft right-footer wide of the left-post after wiggling through a crowd. And it was his delicious curling ball through a crowd that played in Hundal for Toronto’s goal in the 92nd minute.

Though held off the scoresheet, Spencer was much more lively than he appeared earlier this season against Charlotte, where he was largely starved of service and ineffective.

Were it not for the bizarre bounce of the surface in Rochester, he may have gotten in alone in the first half. He made the run to get on the end of Uccello’s long-ball, only for a peculiar bounce to play into the defender’s hands.

There are moments where the appeal of Spencer are clear. Along with a big frame, his mobility is remarkable when he is feeling it and the game is coming towards him. Few forwards look good when stranded on an island, chasing down rabbit holes.

He is still missing a little of the confidence that comes with execution. In past appearances, there were moments where it was clear he could see what needed to be done, but translating that into action has been a struggle – underhit passes, imprecise shooting, etc.

When he scored last season, also against Charlotte in a rousing come-from-behind win, the first goal since returning from that devastating injury that nearly ended his career, Spencer seemed to converse with the ball, a mix of elation and relief. He needs more of those moments.

As has been the case all season and much of those past, it was little moments that proved costly for TFC II.

The Brett goal was a broken play that could have ended several times before ending up in the back of the net. A mix of luck and error conspiring against Toronto.

Riverhounds full-back (and Canadian) Jordan Dover burst into the right-side of the box where he was confronted by Boskovic. The loose ball popped out to Kerr, who headed to the end-line. Dunn was on hand to get a touch on the attempted pull-back, but it in turn fell to Brett. The retreating Boskovic and Onkony collided as both tried to deal with the danger, allowing Brett to capitalize on the fortune with his fourth goal against TFC II in two matches.

Pittsburgh’s second the result of a much more tidy bit of execution: Kerr received the ball from Ben Zemanski, played a one-two with Brett and then beat Patterson-Sewell with a well-taken left-footer. It was a play that showed how Toronto missed the resilience and positional play of Waja, shoring up those central lanes. Too often the side has had a soft middle, getting caught watching the ball and reacting rather than limiting options and absorbing such moments of pressure.

USL Photo - TFC II’s Robert Boskovic contends for a ball with Pittsburgh’s Neco Brett in Rochester
Boskovic holds off Brett during Saturday’s loss in Rochester
Matt Wittmeyer

But another trend that has developed of late showed itself as the match wore on.

Having faded late in matches through the early portions of the season, Toronto has gotten their legs under them. Their willingness to fight back after slow starts was a hallmark of last season. Though it is inconvenient to have to come back from early deficits, that the side has no quit in them is encouraging.

Daniels nearly single-handedly pulled Toronto back on the hour-mark with a powerful run up the right before dragging his low shot just wide of the far-post. Uccello then almost squeezed a shot from the top of the box into the bottom left-corner of goal. And Mino did similarly with a clipped attempt shortly thereafter.

Guyot went to his bench after the hour, bringing on Kunle Dada-Luke for Spencer in the 65th minute. Matt Srbely made his return from injury in the 68th minute for Uccello and caution was thrown to the wind in the 79th minute when Okello was replaced by Hundal.

The 18-year old striker’s lack of minutes through the opening months of the campaign has been noticeable. Asked about it a few weeks ago, Guyot explained that he is asking a lot of his forwards: he needs them not just to lurk, popping up to score goals and then drifting into the background, but to also be a consistent factor in the team’s defensive pressing in their areas of the pitch.

Managing both roles, of being alert to sniff out chances and in position to capitalize, while also putting in a shift for the team is a tall ask.

Playing in his third full season in USL, Hundal came into form as the year wore on in 2017. Expect to see more of him as the games begin to come thick and fast and he gains a better understanding of what is expected under Guyot.

All told, loss aside, it was a solid performance from TFC II. For much of the match, they went toe-to-toe with one of the top three sides in the Eastern Conference in unfamiliar surroundings. An archive of the match is available on YouTube.

All told, loss aside, it was a solid performance from TFC II. For much of the match, they went toe-to-toe with one of the top three sides in the Eastern Conference in unfamiliar surroundings. An archive of the match is available on YouTube.

And Waking the Red even got a shout out on the broadcast, which is pretty neat.

TFC II are back in action on Wednesday when they host Penn FC, formerly known as the Harrisburg City Islanders. It was announced on Monday that to give the battered pitch at BMO Field a rest, the game would be played at Monarch Park Stadium.

The 11 a.m. kickoff marks the first school day match of the season and should provide a lively, if a touch shrill, atmosphere.