Worried that four World Cup matches on the docket for Saturday are not enough to scratch the footy itch with MLS on a break this weekend?
Fret not, Toronto FC II are in action Saturday afternoon, as they host Indy Eleven in the second of the series of home matches set to be played in Rochester at Marina Auto Stadium – kickoff is at 7 p.m.
Toronto will be looking to continue their evolution under the tutelage of new coach, Michael Rabasca.
TFC II took an early lead last weekend against Penn FC through Ayo Akinola, played in on goal by Mariano Mino, only for Penn to respond at the start of the second half with a pair of headers in short order from their captain, Ken Tribbett. Jordan Hamilton put the Young Reds in a position to salvage a point, but a controversial penalty kick deep in stoppage-time proved their doom, losing 3-2 on the road.
The defeat stretched Toronto’s current losing streak to seven matches; through thirteen games, the side is yet to find a victory.
Though his debut on the sidelines for TFC II may not have panned out exactly as hoped, Rabasca took the positives from the loss.
“The team took what we worked on in training all week and were able to apply it, successfully in some instances,” said Rabasca on Tuesday. “So, just from that standpoint, we consider the week a win.”
“It’s nice to see what you’ve worked on in the training translate into the matches,” added Rabasca, having just gotten into the role at the start of last week. “Overall, real positive thoughts.”
There was a marked difference from the sides that had been fielded by his predecessor, Laurent Guyot, as the team took to the pitch in a 3-5-2-type formation and had several first team players – Mino, Akinola, and Hamilton – in the starting eleven.
Both coaches sought strong ties between the USL and MLS sides, but with the injury crisis at the first team, opportunities were limited and resources strained.
“There is an interest in keeping a strong tie between both groups,” explained Rabasca, labelling timing of those changes as, “circumstance,” as the first team begins to get healthy, leaving more players available for minutes at TFC II.
“That is both good for us and good for the first team: that they are able to get the minutes to get them ready for when they are called upon,” continued Rabasca. “In terms of system, it just made sense based on the personnel available for us. I can’t say that we’ve trained for one system or another. We trained on principles.”
With another week on the training pitch under their belts, Toronto will be looking to further implement those principles when they face off against Indy Eleven on Saturday.
The side will welcome back the trio of Aidan Daniels, Julian Dunn, and Noble Okello, who were away on international duty with Canada at the Toulon Tournament and missed the Penn match.
“They are healthy and happy to return from their time in France,” said Rabasca of the trio. “Really nice experience for them as well; lots of positives coming back. We should expect them this weekend.”
Those reinforcements into the squad that faced Penn bode well.
In their way, however, will be Indy Eleven.
Led by former Vancouver Whitecaps FC coach Martin Rennie, Indy head to Rochester eager to push into the playoff spots as the USL season continues apace.
The “Boys in Blue,” as they are called, apparently, enter the match sitting in tenth spot in the Eastern Conference, a single point outside of the final playoff berth.
Through twelve matches, Rennie’s side has collected eighteen points with a record of five wins and four losses. They come unbeaten in two matches having defeated Atlanta United 2 by a 2-0 scoreline last Saturday and drawing 3-3 draw with the Charleston Battery at the close of May.
They were, however, dumped out of the US Open Cup in the Second Round, losing to Mississippi Brilla of the PDL.
Founded in 2013 and debuting the following year, Indy are in their first season in USL having made the jump from NASL.
Indy feature plenty of familiar names: former Red Justin Braun, Canadians Karl Ouimette and Tyler Pasher, former Whitecaps Matt Watson and Carlyle Mitchell; along with several others to have featured in MLS: Brad Ring, Ben Speas, Soony Saad, and Jack McInerney, to name just a few.
But the opponent matters little to TFC II, for the moment at least. First, they must get their own house in order.
“We are focused on ourselves right now,” said Rabasca. “The priority will be to continue to focus on getting better, on getting the right mentality, on preparing us for what this team needs and what this organization needs.”
Added Rabasca: “Our focus will be on individual players improving and then our team.”
That begins with defence.
Having seemingly gotten the porous back under control after a heavy defeat in Pittsburgh, going on a run of allowing just five goals through as many matches, that solidity proved short-lived.
Beginning with that 5-4 shootout in Atlanta, a span of six matches, TFC II have conceded 17 goals. To paraphrase Guyot after the 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay, one simply cannot expect to win when allowing three goals-against per match.
“We have to focus on the defensive aspect,” said Gianluca Catalano. “Defend as a group, as a unit and really focus on our press.”
Despite the struggles, the Young Reds keep a positive attitude and the mood in the group is good: focusing on the steps forward being taken.
“Although we haven’t gotten the proper results, we’re playing better game-by-game,” explained Catalano. “And with a new coach – change is always good – there is more confidence. The atmosphere is good and we are getting closer.”
Having just celebrated his 18th birthday at the start of May, Catalano has been thrust into the starting role with injuries to Angelo Cavalluzzo, Drew Shephard, and Caleb Patterson-Sewell. The side did reinforce in that position, bringing in Borja Angoitia recently, who will likely see minutes sooner or later.
But growth has already been seen in the young academy graduate through four appearances.
“It’s been a really good experience,” said Catalano of his stepping up to a higher level. “It’s a change [from] League 1 [Ontario]; USL is a lot faster.”
“I’ve experienced everything I possibly could in the last few games,” explained Catalnao. “Penalties, yellow cards. Obviously we lost, but they’ve been great games for me. It’s been exciting.”
Catalano made his debut in the nine-goal thriller against Atlanta, started against Charlotte too, and then came on early off the bench in the derby against Ottawa Fury FC when Shephard broke his nose. His first order of duty on the night: face a penalty kick, something he had never had to face coming in cold before.
“No, I haven’t,” smiled Catalano at the recollection. “But it has always been a dream to... and save it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t, but it was cool to experience.”
He may not have gotten his hands on that one, but it was an experience that will prove infinitely valuable as his career continues.
As a matter of fact, facing penalties is something Catalano has had to become accustomed to quickly: “I’ve played four games and there have been three.”
That, defending in their own area, is one of the frailties that Rabasca and company will have been working on in training. But should his side put him in that situation again, Catalano is ready for the challenge: “I haven’t saved one [yet], but hopefully the next one.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and the match will be streamed on YouTube as usual.