Toronto FC II were defeated 3-0 by Ottawa Fury FC on Wednesday evening at TD Place Stadium in Ottawa, losing the first of three encounters between the provincial rivals scheduled for the 2018 USL season.
A nasty clash of heads between TFC II keeper Drew Shepherd, making his first start, and the Fury’s Kevin Oliviera in the 6th minute led to the opening goal from the ensuing penalty kick when play resumed ten minutes later, converted by Steevan dos Santos.
Nana Attakora added the second shortly after the restart and dos Santos rounded out the scoring late with a predatory strike.
Entering the match on short rest, days removed from a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rowdies at BMO Field, TFC II were hoping to end a five-game losing streak that has marred what seemed to be signs of life.
Laurent Guyot made several changes to his eleven once again. Shepherd entered between the posts to make his ill-fated USL debut. Luca Petrasso was inserted at left-back in place of Kyle Bjornethun, Gideon Waja joined Dante Campbell at the base of the midfield, and Jordan Faria, who scored against Charlotte recently, was moved from his usual wide-attacking role into the forward position.
Having started brightly, that face-on-face collision between Shepherd and Oliviera completely altered the tone of the match for Toronto, gifting Ottawa an early lead in the process.
A relatively harmless ball was left to the keeper by Brandon Onkony, but Shepherd was neither able to collect, nor was Onkony able to hold off Oliviera, who got a boot to the ball before he and the keeper collided. At the time, the call seemed a harsh one, but upon further review it was likely warranted. That Oliviera touch the difference. Either way, a tough start for the side and Gianluca Catalano, who was welcomed into goal by a firmly struck right-footed penalty kick from the big Cape Verdean striker.
Early reports had Shepherd suffering a broken nose on the play; a rough welcome to the professional game.
As noted by Charlie O’Connor-Clarke, conceding penalty kicks has been yet another symptom of the recent struggles at TFC II.
They have conceded four in the last month: Ottawa and Charlotte scored from theirs, while Caleb Patterson-Sewell denied New York Red Bulls II to preserve a 0-0 draw and Angelo Cavalluzzo kept out another from Penn FC.
The injury and penalty kick were the only real moments of consequence in the first half. Ottawa threatened without finding much joy and Toronto found the odd moment to get forward, but it was clear which team entered on an unbeaten streak and which in lesser form.
Ottawa would put the game out of reach shortly after the restart when Attakora overpowered his mark to get on the end of a Carl Haworth corner kick, guiding a firm header past Catalano in the 48th minute. Goals at either side of half-time, or in the opening or closing stages of halves, are always a dagger. On Saturday it was Toronto who scored in one of those periods against Tampa Bay, sparking a comeback that proved incomplete, but with Ottawa doubling their lead at home, the writing was on the wall.
And, of course, with two former Reds in the Fury side, it was inevitable that at least one of them would score – the other, was Chris Mannella. Yet another, goalkeeper David Monsalve, was on the bench for Ottawa.
In need of a goal, Guyot went to his bench, replacing a midfielder – Campbell – with Shaan Hundal, a true centre-forward. And Toronto had a glorious chance to put themselves back into the match when Malik Johnson picked out Matt Srbely at the top of the box after some strong work up the flank, but the shot sailed harmlessly over the bar without even testing Maxime Crepeau.
Struggling to craft chances, TFC II did find an excellent one in the 70th minute when Luca Uccello sliced open the Fury back-line with a ball for Hundal streaking in behind, but the striker could not get the ball to settle, allowing Crepeau to interject with a touch, rebounding it off Hundal for a goal-kick.
Toronto would make their third substitution in the pause afterwards, replacing Srbely with 18-year old Steffen Yeates.
But dos Santos would complete his brace in the 79th minute, ripping a low shot across Catalano from the edge of the box to pick out the far bottom-corner.
The 3-0 defeat leaves Toronto winless through twelve matches, their only two points having come from a pair of scoreless draws.
The match stats are worth considering, as they tell the tale of what has plagued TFC II.
Toronto won the possession battle with 70.2%, completed 491 passes to Ottawa’s 211, and had better passing accuracy both overall (%, 85.5:61.6) and in the opponents’ half (%, 74.3:55.2).
Ottawa won both the duels (65.3%) and aerial duels (75%). And the Fury had more shots (12:5), more on target (6:1), better shooting accuracy (50%:20%), more tackles (24:10), more interceptions (11:4), and more clearances (30:19), while conceding fewer fouls (8:12).
Those figures speak volumes regarding what it takes to win.
It takes making the most of opportunities (shots, on target, accuracy), it takes physical defending and battling (duels, tackles), it takes forcing the other team into mistakes (interceptions), it takes a bit of savvy, knowing when and how to foul and when and how to relieve pressure, cancelling momentum (fouls, clearances).
And it takes taking risks, smart ones; being willing to be direct and play a low-percentage ball if that is what will create the chances, while at the same time doing so in a way that does not leave the side exposed at the other end.
Now, of course, TFC II have been feeling the effects of the injury crisis in the first team.
A handful of players who could be expected to get minutes in USL (Liam Fraser, Ayo Akinola, Ryan Telfer, and Mariano Mino) were not available. Nor were Aidan Daniels, Julian Dunn, and Noble Okello who were away with Canada at the Toulon Tournament.
But with the news that Guyot may be leaving to pursue other opportunities. Questions linger over the side a third of the way through the USL season.
Whatever lays ahead, TFC II will have some time to reflect on the season to this point over the month of June, as they have just three matches scheduled.
Their next match is on June 9, away to Penn FC. After that near-ten day break another of some eleven days separates matches against Indy Eleven in Rochester on June 16 and their return to BMO Field on June 27 to face FC Cincinnati, who became the latest expansion club to join MLS this week, moving into the league for the 2019 season.