Nobody could argue that this season has gone smoothly for TFC II.
The constantly shifting ground has made it difficult to establish the required level of play on a regular basis. The departure of Laurent Guyot, the injury crisis with the first team, and the loss of Angelo Cavalluzzo, the model of consistency when all else around him was anything but, are just some of the factors that have played into the results... or lack thereof.
But all that is now in the past; the side is looking to make the most out of their remaining schedule with a new era set to begin in their new downtown home.
Now in their fourth season in USL, TFC II have been a work in progress. Playing in the suburbs allowed an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ malaise to set in. The lack of success on the pitch only furthered that distance.
Hopefully that will all begin to change.
Speaking on the sidelines of the renovated surface at Lamport on Tuesday, head coach Michael Rabasca shared his observations of the side after his first few weeks at the helm.
“Lots of potential. Quick learners; lots of progress made. Lots of surprises, including balls that fly everywhere. They’re really a fun group to work with,” smiled Rabasca, as the scrum dodged an errant clearance. “The energy to succeed and the willingness to put in long hours. The guys are at the training ground almost six hours a day at the moment, doing some sort of active work, whether it is physical training or watching video, whatever it might be. I am really encouraged by their willingness to put in all that work to make themselves better.”
Wednesday will be Rabasca’s third match in charge. The path forward remains the one he has instituted since taking over for Guyot.
“Same every week. We’ve laid out a plan, whoever we’re playing; what we worked on in practice, we want to see that in the match. Win or lose, we want to see what we worked on,” stressed Rabasca. “It wouldn’t be the worse thing in the world to win a game and not see what we worked on. But it’s better when you’re really getting after it, trying to teach them concepts, and then you see each individual bring those home and get the win. That would be the ultimate of what we’ve looking for.”
Toronto last played on June 16, losing 3-1 to Indy Eleven at Marina Auto Stadium, the second of four ‘home’ matches played in Rochester.
Indy took the lead after 23 minutes, but TFC II responded five minutes later through Ayo Akinola, only for former Red Justin Braun to score either side of half-time to secure the three points for the visitors.
“That was a tough match,” said Aidan Daniels. “We did well in some sprits; created a lot of opportunities, just some little mistakes that we need to fine tune in order to win matches and get results.”
Learning how to win has been a topic revolving around the USL side since their inception – Waking the Red will have more on just what that means soon having chatted with Greg Vanney about it. The talent at TFC II is clear, but so too is their youth. With that mix comes inconsistency, a wavering between periods of brillance and errors of immaturity. Emphasizing one and limiting the other is the name of the game at the professional level.
Though the match was not streamed and highlights were slow to emerge, both Vanney and Rabasca noted the quality of the goal scored against Indy.
“The goal itself is one of the best goals that I have seen our USL players [score] as a team,” said Rabasca. “Ayo capped it off; finished very well. There were three or four players involved and the ball was really moving.”
“That is their potential coming to life. It was fun to watch,” continued Rabasca. “Ayo is consistently progressing. He’s scoring goals, proving he can score at this level, which is encouraging.”
Daniels, who picked up an assist on the play, described the move.
“A good build-up. We weren’t rushing anything, we were patient with the ball,” said Daniels. “Ayo made a good movement. I saw Mino come into the space, he dummied the ball and I knew Ayo was overlapping, so I back-heeled it to him and he did the rest.”
It was Akinola’s third goal of the season through eight appearances and his second in as many games.
Yet to win this season, having lost their last eight, Toronto will face a stiff challenge on Wednesday night as Eastern Conference leaders FC Cincinnati come to town.
On 30 points from fifteen matches, Cincinnati enter on a four-match unbeaten streak, most recently dispatching the Richmond Kickers 4-0 at their home ground, Nippert Stadium, on June 16, where Emmanuel Ledesma netted a brace and Danni Konig and Nazmi Albadawi added singles.
Under Alan Koch, Cincinnati has a record of nine wins, three losses, and three draws, amassing a five-point lead ahead of both Louisville City FC and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. With both chasers having games in hand on Cincinnati – two and one, respectively – Cincinnati will be looking to extend their superb road form.
An away record of six wins, one loss, and one draw implies they have not found it difficult to impose themselves, regardless of whether their raucous home fans are cheering them on or not. Cincinnati has won their last two away, beating North Carolina FC 2-0 and New York Red Bulls II 2-1.
Though Konig and Ledesma lead the side with seven goals each and Albadawi has chipped in five, it is the strength and depth that Cincinnati has amassed as they prepare to join MLS for the 2019 season that is particularly notable – MLS roster enthusiasts will recognize more than a few names from past SuperDrafts and homegrown signings.
In addition, Koch, who has ties to Vancouver Whitecaps and Simon Fraser University, has given chances to several Canadians on his roster, including former TFC draft pick Emery Welshman, a Mississauga-native, Toronto-native and one-time National Team forward Daniel Haber, and goalkeeper Mark Village, from Abbotsford, B.C.
“A good team; very experienced. We’re looking for a good challenge,” said Daniels of what they expect from the opponent. “We are young, we’re ready, we’re hungry, and we’re ready to go.”
At their new home, Toronto FC II will be raring to get themselves off to a good start. Cincinnati have won all four meetings all-time; there could not be a better time to correct that record.
Having gotten a good look at Lamport in training the day before the match, TFC II are looking forward to yet another home opener.
“It’s nice, it’s fresh,” said Rabasca of the new digs. “We’re really appreciative of the City, Toronto FC; that they put the effort into making us feel welcome and having a nice place to play. The field is green; lots of lines. And it’s good to get familiar with it, so overall I think the guys are really enjoying it.”
Pro Tip: the orange lines are for soccer, the others are for Rugby and Field Hockey.
A good kickoff time? Check. A downtown stadium? Check. Decent weather? Remains to be seen. Will the fans come out? That is up to you.
It appears as though the Ultras Rosso will be in the house:
TFC II made the case for why you should come out.
“They’re young and energetic; they put it all out there,” said Rabasca. “If you are looking for the future, who they are going to be, this is where you are going to see it. You’ll see personalities, you’ll see them fighting for every ball, for every minute. They are a fun group to watch and hopefully as we move along the results will come with it.”
Added Daniels: “We’re really excited; playing in our home town. We’ve had several home openers already, hopefully it’s our last. We hope all the fans come out and enjoy themselves. We’ll put on a show.”
The match will be streamed on YouTube (below), but there it is a pale comparison to coming out for some live action: