Toronto FC II returned to action after a lengthy break on Saturday evening, but despite scoring first, dropped a third-straight match, losing 3-1 to North Carolina FC at Sahlen’s Stadium in WakeMed Soccer Park.
Shaan Hundal opened the scoring after 20 minutes, rising up to meet a Kyle Bjornethun corner kick, but North Carolina’s Austin da Luz responded from a corner of their own eight minutes later. A controversial second half penalty kick, converted by Daniel Rios, broke the deadlock in the second half and Kyle Bekker added a third in short order to round out the scoring.
With their trip to Louisville City scheduled for July 18 postponed, TFC II enjoyed a few weeks on the training pitch to drill down on the concepts head coach Michael Rabasca has emphasized since taking over from Laurent Guyot.
Losses to Charleston (4-0) and Tampa Bay (3-1) followed on the heels of an excellent showing against FC Cincinnati in the home opener at Lamport Stadium on June 27, resulting in a come-from-behind 3-3 draw.
Toronto were hoping the hard work put in on the training grounds would turn into results as the season carries on.
Rabasca made several changes to his starting eleven from the side that trotted out against the Tampa Bay Rowdies on July 4: Tim Kubel came in at right-back, Lars Eckenrode slotted into the middle of the defence alongside Rocco Romeo, while Dante Campbell moved into the midfield, sitting deep beside Gideon Waja.
Matt Srbely shored up the centre of the pitch with his two-way play, while Aidan Daniels came back in to take up the right flank, moving Luca Uccello over to the left in place of Jordan Faria.
Hundal made a second-straight start up top, Borja Angoitia his fourth consecutive in goal since coming into the side and Kyle Bjornethun manned the left-back role, captaining the side after being named to the first team bench midweek in Ottawa.
TFC II stood strong through the early passages of play, where both sides felt each other out. A pair of North Carolina corner kicks were dealt with before Toronto sprang to life in the 19th minute.
Srbely showed his power on the left-side, out working a defender to win possession and move in-field, where he picked out Daniels charging into the box on the right with a square ball. Daniel’s right-footed blast appeared goal bound, only to be blocked by the sliding recovery of Aaron Guillen.
From the ensuing corner, days after renewing his contract, Hundal rose up high at the near-post to get on the end of the outswinging Bjornethun delivery, powering his header in at the near-side to give Toronto the lead with his second goal of the season.
It was a well-worked set-piece routine, straight off on the training ground, that drew attention to the back-side, distracting North Carolina and opening up a lane for Hundal to attack.
TFC II would look to press their advantage thereafter, with Srbely attempting to get in behind, but he was called offside, much to Rabasca’s chagrin.
Come the 28th minute, North Carolina earned another corner when Romeo was forced into a timely intervention. Former TFC midfielder Bekker whipped in his delivery from the right-side, picking out da Luz at the near-post for a firm header across to the far-side of goal, equalling the match at ones.
Angoitia would be called upon to make a pair of saves in quick succession: coming off his line quickly to corral a potentially troublesome cross and then getting down well to deny a Bekker header from a left-sided Guillen cross.
Both sides would find the outside netting in the waning moments of the half with Bekker and Hundal both unable to keep their shots on frame from tight angles.
Level at the half, both sides emerged intent on tilting the balance in their direction.
Kubel nearly bagged a stunner two minutes after the restart, ripping a right-footer from some thirty-plus yards that was bound for the top left-corner of goal, only to be denied by North Carolina keeper, Alex Tambakis.
The keeper then stayed big to deny Srbely as he broke in down the left-side of the area after a turnover, getting a piece of the midfielder’s low left-footed drive across his body in the 52nd minute.
Up at the other end a minute later, the match would turn in the home side’s favour when Eckenrode was deemed to have fouled Rios as he worked his way down the left-side of the Toronto box. It seemed a soft call at first, the hand on the back hardly enough to bring down the attacker, but a rash reach in from the defender was enough to prompt the referee to point to the spot.
After some minor disagreements and a pair of bookings – to Romeo and NCFC’s Michael Harrington, Rios converted the kick himself with a firmly struck right-footer to the bottom left-corner of goal.
Toronto would go back on the attack in search of an equalizer of their own, but it was North Carolina who would find the crucial next goal when Rios worked down the left-side once more, cutting back to pick out the late arriving Bekker at the high near-post.
The Oakville-native calmly stabbed a right-footed finish past Angoitia for North Carolina’s third.
TFC II would go to their bench, bringing on Malik Johnson and Jordan Faria, who inked a professional deal of his own last week, in place of Srbely and Waja – defensive solidity sacrificed for forward intent.
But North Carolina did a good job of slowing down the game, preventing any rhythm from being found. A couple of yellow cards – notably one to Bekker for a flick of the wrist that caught Campbell as he sought to grab the ball to hurry a restart that Bekker would rather took longer.
More subs from both sides – Aikim Andrews coming on for Kubel – would further break up any flow in the remaining quarter of an hour and Toronto would be forced to settle for the 3-1 defeat in the end.
Toronto FC II return to action this weekend when they travel to Rochester for the third home match of the series at Marina Auto Stadium, welcoming Nashville SC to town for the first-ever meeting between the two clubs.