Toronto FC II will look to build on their emphatic second half against Eastern Conference leaders FC Cincinnati midweek when they face off against the Charleston Battery on Sunday evening at BMO Field – the match will follow the first team’s encounter with the New York Red Bulls and is set to kickoff at 8 p.m.
Cincinnati took the lead after just seven minutes on Wednesday via Nazmi Albadawi, but Toronto responded through Ayo Akinola only for goals from former Red Emery Welshman and Manu Ledesma to give the visitors a commanding 3-1 lead at half-time.
But TFC II emerged from the break a different side in their debut at Lamport Stadium. Robert Boskovic rose up well to meet a Ryan Telfer cross in the 70th minute and three minutes later Jordan Hamilton equalized with a thunderous, well-worked strike. Through the final twenty minutes, Toronto continued to press; it looked as though there was only one team that was playing to win.
Rising to the occasion against one of the best teams in the league in the midst of the year that the Young Reds have had was an encouraging development. Toronto picked up their third point of the season with the 3-3 draw and hope that it heralds a different vibe to the second half of their season.
“I hope that the players bottle this second half,” said Michael Rabasca post-match. “Because it was a mentality thing. We could have looked at the system, made a bunch of changes... ultimately it had nothing to do with tactics, [but] with a belief, a courage, a mentality to go for it.”
The days leading into Sunday have seen the side, “take care of the body, recover; regenerate.”
“We’ll throw in a few practice sessions that will help prepare them for the next match: show them some things from Charleston,” explained Rabasca. “But ultimately, it comes down having the belief and understanding that they’re good enough to get everything out of a game that they desire.”
Standing in their way come Sunday are the Charleston Battery.
Led by Mike Anhaeuser, Charleston enter in ninth-place in the East, after Saturday’s results, on 22 points from fifteen matches with a record of five wins, three losses, and seven draws. Having been bumped out of the playoff positions, Charleston are one of a pack of eleven teams separated by just eight points, spanning third to thirteenth place.
Having lost just once through their first eleven matches, Charleston have struggled to find wins, dropping in the standing as those around them collect full points to their slow-rate of singles.
The Battery are winless in their last six matches, drawing five over that span including their last two: a 1-1 away to the Charlotte Independence and most recently a 0-0 at home against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC on June 23.
And the road has not been particularly kind to the Battery with a record of one win, two losses, and four draws. They are winless in their last three away, all draws.
Goals have been at a premium for the Battery, hence the tight nature of most matches. Through 15 games they have scored 18 goals, leaving the margins for victory slim. For comparison’s sake, TFC II have scored just three fewer and sit at the bottom of the conference.
Ataulla Guerra leads the side with seven goals in fourteen appearances, while both Gordon Wild and Tah Anunga have chipped in with three each; a handful of others, including 2015 TFC draft pick
and GTA-native Skylar Thomas.
Charleston has bossed the all-time series between the sides with four wins to TFC II’s two.
But Toronto have had a knack for rising to the occasion against the conference leaders in the past: their best patch of the 2017 season saw them best Charleston and draw against Charlotte in back-to-back matches, each then at the top of the East. They followed that up with a dramatic win in Charlotte a few weeks later.
As mentioned in the preview for the match against FC Cincinnati, the task at hand for TFC II and a piece of their development is that the players ‘learn how to win’.
Part of that is having the required confidence, knowing that one belongs and can excel at this level, which is something that Wednesday’s draw will have evidenced, but still it is a rather nebulous concept.
Is it about getting the feeling and habit of winning, or is it a game-management thing? It is a little bit of both, but the latter is the process by which the former comes about.
“It’s understanding where can you lose balls and where can’t you; what is going to create a bad situation for yourself and what isn’t; how to manage games, make good solid decisions from beginning to end,” explained Greg Vanney. “It’s a consistency thing.”
“That team has had some good performances: the goal they scored [against Indy Eleven] was phenomenal, but there are too many big break downs that translate into loss of points, loss of a result,” continued Vanney. “It’s learning to manage all those details over the course of a game that ultimately teach you how to win games.”
The inability to find that consistency, to make the big plays at both ends of the pitch that shift the margins in either direction has been TFC II’s weakness. They can go toe-to-toe with teams for 80 minutes, but it is in those crucial passages that they fall short.
There is room for error, but in the balance the tally has to be in your favour.
“It’s not about being perfect necessarily, but it’s about not making the big mistakes, giving the team the best chance to get a result,” said Vanney. “That’s part of the learning process, whether it’s individual or collective: you’ve got to know how to make smart decisions in the moment given the situation, whatever the variables are in order to not concede something and-or finish something off; to make big plays.”
“It doesn’t matter how good you play at the highest level, at the end of the day it matters that you just get the result,” added Vanney. “You have to know what all the little things are in a game to help you get the result.”
The first task at hand for Rabasca upon taking over, was to wipe the slate clean after a difficult start to the season.
To that point, Rabasca has instilled a new confidence in the side, according to Hamilton: “There is a belief now in the team that maybe wasn’t there before with the younger guys.”
“We are going in every game now with a plan, with an intention of playing hard and being hard to play against, and it’s working,” continued Hamilton. “You can see the fight in the guys.”
It makes a certain amount of sense that given his background and role with the first team, getting that mentality sorted out was the first matter of business for Rabasca. Now come the next steps.
“We have a very clear plan in place,” said Rabasca after the second half turnaround against Penn FC in his first match – TFC II took the lead, only to lose 3-2 in the end, conceding a pair of headers in quick succession and then a devastatingly late (and controversial) penalty kick.
“To the extent that that helps us with the result and a win or a draw then we would have considered the process a success,” continued Rabasca. “In the instance where the result is still not right, but the mentality and the mistakes previously are not made again, we can also consider that a success.”
Which kind of ‘success’ they will find against Charleston remains to be seen – kickoff is set for 8 p.m.
The match will be steamed on YouTube (below):
Following Sunday’s match, TFC II play their next three on the road – July 4 at Tampa Bay Rowdies; July 18 at Louisville City FC; July 21 at North Carolina FC – before they return ‘home’ on July 28 vs. Nashville SC in Rochester. Their next match in Toronto falls on August 12 against the Richmond Kickers.