Nashville SC to Marina Auto Stadium in the third of four home matches played in Rochester.
The Young Reds will be looking to build upon the positives from the defeat at the hands of North Carolina FC last weekend - kickoff is set for 8 p.m.
For just the third time all-season, TFC II took the lead when Shaan Hundal rose high to get on the end of a Kyle Bjornethun corner kick. But, the advantage was short-lived, as North Carolina levelled from a corner kick before yet another penalty kick in the second half and a quick strike thereafter from former Red Kyle Bekker rounded out the scoring in the 3-1 loss.
“It was a tough match,” said Bjornethun midweek. “It’s good for us to come out on top, get a goal early, but we need to continue to learn to get a lead and hold it, that’s really important for us. We’re a team that has a solid defence, we can hold it down after we get a lead.”
Conceding from a set-piece, an Achilles’ heel of the side all season, saw that lead dissipate far too quickly, and when the controversial penalty kick was awarded, leading to protestations and some minor handbags, TFC II were unable to regain their composure, allowing Bekker to punish and put the game out of reach.
“A lot of positives. The boys played very well,” said assistant coach Chris Pozniak. “The one criticism is that when we did concede a bad goal, there was an emotional reaction. We need to learn to deal with those better, those setbacks, so they don’t affect us for as long as they did and we don’t concede again.”
Nobody could argue that this season has gone to plan.
TFC II sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, adrift from the final playoff position, currently held by Ottawa Fury FC, by 24 points. To even catch up with the team directly in front of them, Atlanta United 2, Toronto would need to collect twelve points, or four wins. Never mind that they have not yet won a match in eighteen opportunities.
“It’s been a hard season, not getting results,” said Bjornethun, who at 23-years-old, is one of the older members of the squad. “However, there has been a lot of progress.”
“If you look at a lot of our matches, we’re only losing by a goal or two,” added Bjornethun. “There is a lot we take away from every game; we’re learning every time. This match against North Carolina showed the way we could come out, get the lead early, now we can build on that and keep that lead.”
To the casual observer, only checking in occasional, focusing on the macros, it does appear dire. But as Bjornethun pointed out, it has been a much more closely run contest than the figures reveal.
There have been some lopsided games: losses to Ottawa, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, and the Charleston Battery come to mind, but just as often there have been hard-fought matches that turned on big plays in big moments, as Greg Vanney is so fond of saying, that proved decisive.
Add to that, the instability that the side has gone through, whether with the departure of Laurent Guyot, the ever-changing landscape in terms of which stadium they’re playing in, and the injuries to two more-senior players – Angelo Cavalluzzo and Jelani Peters – who were expected to be key factors, and the reasons start to multiply.
Part of that is the nature of a second team, especially the lineup instability that comes from players ranging across the first team and TFC III. That will continue to be the case, as the first team gets healthy and the club decides to test some younger players to see how they fare at this level.
And there is word that some reinforcements may be on the way: it was reported that Tsubasa Endoh is back with the club and may be preparing to sign a USL deal for the remainder of the season.
Constant churn seems to be the nature of the beast at TFC II. Several players have left the side to head to school – Gianluca Catalano and Steffen Yeates – while others will miss time to attend youth international camps, tournaments and the like.
But it is in the midst of that storm that players cut their teeth for the high-pressure environment of the professional game.
In recent weeks, TFC has expressed their faith in two such projects: Shaan Hundal and Jordan Faria.
“Shaan has been in the system for a little while; he’s continuing to develop,” said Vanney of the 19-year-old striker. “For him, it’s consistency, day-to-day, in training, and performances on the field.”
“There’s definitely something special there,” continued Vanney. “He’s got a nose for goal; he’s an aggressive runner to get into good spots; he’s got a good mentality as a goal-scorer. [The new contract] is to continue to get him more time to develop as a player and more opportunities in the USL to continue to grow as a striker for us.”
In the 18-year-old Faria, who signed just days after his birthday, Toronto have added yet another intriguing attacking talent.
“Jordan is a 2000, one of our young guys that we like coming through,” said Vanney, who has spoken repeatedly about that age group being one they had their eye on.
Ayo Akinola, Julian Dunn, Noble Okello, Rocco Romeo, Kunle Dada-Luke, and Terique Mohammed, as well as the aforementioned Catalano and Yeates, are all members of that grouping.
“Every time we’ve put little challenges in front Jordan, to push him from his age group to TFC III and then to USL he’s always managed to answer the challenge; continue to show what his strengths are,” explained Vanney. “He’s a wide guy; comfortable on the ball, aggressive, runs at guys, takes people on. He can play on the right-side, the left-side; he’s developing more and more his final product, in terms of his service and ability to shoot coming inside.”
“He’s got a confidence about him, which is really important when you take a step from being an academy player to a pro: understanding who you are and being confident at that,” added Vanney. “Jordan has been great at that and he’s a hard working kid who wants to be good and works at it every single day.”
And there are more, many more, in the pipeline.
The latest challenge in front of the young side will be a new one: a first-ever meeting with Nashville SC.
An expansion side to USL this season, Nashville are lead by head coach Gary Smith, who won the 2010 MLS Cup, in Toronto coincidentally, with the Colorado Rapids.
NSC enter the match holding on the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference with thirty points from nineteen matches after a record of eight wins, five losses, and six draws.
They come in on the back of a 1-0 midweek home win over Atlanta United 2 at First Tennessee Park though it required an 80th minute strike from Taylor Washington to earn the victory. That result snapped a three-match winless run.
On the road, Nashville has found it more difficult of late, losing their last two – away to Ottawa and the Charlotte Independance – and winless in three. They have still collected ten points from as many games with two wins and four draws.
Brandon Allen and Lebo Moloto lead the side with five goals each in eighteen appearances; Ropapa Mensah has four in one less outing. Mensah & Moloto each have three assists.
And there is some Canadian Content to keep an eye on: midfielder Ryan James, who spent last season with the Rochester Rhinos, and defender Jordan Dunstan, a Mississauga-native.
Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. and the match will be streamed on YouTube:
“A mature, direct team,” said Pozniak of Nashville. “We’ll match up well with some of our pacier, more technical players. We’ll be able to cause them some problems.”
“We’re going to go to get a good result,” added Pozniak. “We see every match as an opportunity to win, get some points, and put in a good performance.”
Added Bjornethun: “Another solid team.”
“For us, it’s doing our thing,” continued Bjornethun. “No matter what team we play. We played Cincinnati, a team at the very top, and did very well against them. We can hang with the best of them, it’s a matter of doing what we need to do and taking care of the game.”