After a ten day break, Toronto FC II will be hoping the new era under Michael Rabasca gets off to a positive start as they travel to Pennsylvania on Saturday to face Penn FC – kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
It has been a tough season. Through twelve matches, TFC II are winless, having collected their only two points via a pair of scoreless draws. They sit well adrift at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Former coach Laurent Guyot exhibited a certain amount of frustration at the puzzle before him in recent weeks. Having gotten the defensive side of the game in order following a difficult start, goals proved elusive. When the offence did begin to fire, the back-side became a sieve.
In the recent 3-0 defeat to Ottawa Fury FC, neither was on point.
’Frustrating’ is a word that comes to mind.
But with the departure of Guyot, who has returned to Europe to manage Belgian side Cercle Brugge, a chance to hit the reset button presents itself.
The start to the 2018 campaign has been more than difficult. Results on the pitch have not come, while off the pitch matters have been just as irregular.
With the pitch at BMO Field in a poor state, TFC II have been made itinerant, wandering from ground to ground, uncertain when, where, or if a match would be played. Two home matches have been moved to the opponent’s stadium; another was played at Monarch Park. And that is aside from the previously scheduled ‘home’ matches in Rochester.
But following a busy May, where the side played six matches, June offers a modicum of respite with just three games on the docket.
The surface at BMO Field has been relaid. And Lamport looks to have been completed too. Some stability emerges.
Injuries have played a role as well. Angelo Cavalluzzo’s Achilles has him unavailable, while Drew Shepherd’s broken nose will see him sidelined for a spell. And Caleb Patterson-Sewell has picked up an elbow concern recently, part of why TFC II signed Spanish keeper Borja Angoitia this week – adding another Basque flavour to the mix.
The fitness struggles of the first team have been a factor as well, limiting the availability of young players who could be expected to play minutes in USL.
First team coach Greg Vanney weighed in on the state of the side and the theme that emerged was the need to find a balance between competing interests: winning vs. development, standalone team vs. reserve side.
It is a work in progress, but with Rabasca taking the helm, perhaps that vision will become clearer.
Asked if there would be changes, Rabasca said: “I wouldn’t say necessarily changes, as much as I would say looking at the first team, assessing where we are, how we can help them. I think that’s been pretty standard for TFC II throughout.”
“In terms of style, we want to be closer to what the first team is doing to the extent that we have the players and personnel that fit those roles,” continued Rabasca. “But first and foremost is to look at each of those individual players and build them up, have them prepared for whenever the first team might need them, whether it be Canadian Championship or league play.”
That does seem to imply a lean towards the development and reserve sides of the ledger.
Waking the Red will have more on Rabasca’s philosophy and approach as the month continues – would like to give it a few weeks and matches before diving too deep – but for those looking for immediate insight, former WTR editor Oliver Platt has a recap of the new coach’s opening press conference at The TFC Report.
Big picture aside for the moment, Rabasca got to work on Monday.
“Yesterday was our first real training session,” he said on Tuesday. “We’ve had a couple of recovery and regeneration sessions; yesterday was the first one to really get into the individual responsibilities and abilities of the players.”
“It was a fantastic day,” said Rabasca. “I would mark it as one of my best days at Toronto FC.”
17-year old Luca Petrasso, who has been getting his first taste of USL action this season, making five appearances since debuting against Richmond in April, referred to this period as, “starting to reset.”
“[Results] haven’t been very good this season, but [they] will slowly start to come,” continued Petrasso. “We just have to keep working during practices to get the group back together and everybody on the same page.”
“Some of us have had some very good individual performances: Aidan [Daniels] especially has been coming up and doing well for the team,” observed Petrasso. “But as a team, its bringing [everybody] together, creating team chemistry and a team bond to put that last piece of the puzzle together like [Guyot] said.”
“I think we will be good,” added Petrasso.
The emphasis this week under Rabasca has been “more defensive,” according to Petrasso.
“Our plan is to stay back a little bit, high press a bit more and force [the opponent] to play,” outlined Petrasso. “I think that will put them under pressure.”
It is expected that the trio away with the Canadian National Team – Daniels, Julian Dunn, and Noble Okello – have returned, but their inclusion in the eleven is uncertain.
While youth comes with its foilbles, one of the advantages it brings is unbounded energy. Toronto can match or surpass the efforts of any team in the league when it comes to putting in the work. That has been noticeable in the refusal to give in that the side has exhibited. It is a tool they should look to work to their favour.
The first opponent for Rabasca and company will be Penn FC, who handed TFC II a 1-0 defeat at Monarch Park on May 9 when an 87th minute long-range strike from Miguel Jamie proved the difference.
Toronto were reduced to ten men when Shaan Hundal saw red in the first half and Cavalluzzo looked to preserve a point by denying Tommy Heinemann from the penalty spot, only to succumb to the Jaime strike and his injury in the waning moments.
Coach Raoul Voss, in his first season in charge, has Penn FC battling for every point.
Having rebranded from the Harrisburg City Islanders in the offseason, Penn sits in thirteenth place in the Eastern Conference with eleven points from as many matches.
A record of two wins, four losses, and five draws does not do justice to just how tight every match has been for Penn. Leaving aside the draws, three of the six have been decided by a single goal. While the defence has been stingy, conceding just ten goals, the offence has been lacking, the side having scored only seven.
Worth noting, four of those goals have come from headers, something TFC II will need to be wary of come the match.
And home form has not been a strong point, with Penn winning and losing once, while drawing twice at FNB Field.
Though Penn, like TFC II, will be well rested for the encounter, as they have played just two league matches since that win in Toronto, they enter winless in two, having played to a scoreless draw with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and most recently losing 3-1 to Nashville SC last weekend.
They have also had a pair of US Open Cup matches, both away. in recent weeks, beating FC Motown in the Second Round before bowing out to the Richmond Kickers in the Third Round. A rematch against Richmond in USL play awaits next Tuesday.
And it will be Star Wars night in Harrisburg, so that’s fun.
In six all-time meetings, TFC II has won two and Penn/Harrisburg has won three.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and the match will be stream on YouTube as usual.
One final note worth keeping an eye on is how Rabasca takes to being on the touchlines.
“I hope that I’m fairly calm and taking everything in, but I have been on the sideline before and I know that I can get excited,” smiled Rabasca. “It’s my hope that first and foremost, I’m there to make the players better. I think Greg has been a great role model for me in that respect. There’s a lot that comes with his calmness and his ability to assess situations. That can’t happen when you’re in an emotional state.”
“Having said that, I think when he does get emotional it’s great, because it does help the team, it does show the right moment for the right situation kind of thing,” added Rabasca. “We’ll see.”