Toronto FC II picked up their first win of the 2018 USL Season on Saturday night at Marina Auto Stadium in Rochester, New York, defeating Nashville SC 2-0.
Matt Srbely won the penalty kick that Luca Uccello converted in the first half and then scored himself at the start of the second half to seal the result.
Head coach Michael Rabasca made just two changes to the XI that lost 3-1 to North Carolina FC last weekend. Between the posts, Caleb Patterson-Sewell, back from an elbow injury, stepped in for Borja Angoitia, while Jordan Faria, who inked a professional deal last week, took up the left-sided attacking midfield role in place of Aidan Daniels.
Otherwise, the back-line of Tim Kubel, Lars Eckenrode, Rocco Romeo, and Kyle Bjornethun, as well as the midfield shield of Dante Campbell and Gideon Waja went unchanged.
Further afield, Srbely and Uccello retained their central and right-sided roles, respectively, and Shaan Hundal made a fourth-straight start atop the formation.
Toronto started brightly, finding an early look after just six minutes when Bjornethun’s left-sided cross was met by Srbely in the box – his header was aimed inches over the bar, but it was Nashville who found the back of the net first.
A corner kick in the 9th minute was flicked at the near-post by Matt LaGrassa towards Brandon Allen, who was lurking on the blindside. He calmly swept home the ball, but was ruled offside, cancelling out the strike.
Spared that early concession, TFC II went back to work, crafting an excellent chance in the 21st minute that deserved a better finish. A Kubel ball picked out Srbely on the move, who deftly turned his defender on the run to burst into the right-side of the area, only to drag his shot wide of the far-post.
Faria then twisted up his marker wide on the right to deliver an inviting ball into the area that Uccello was unable to get on the end in the 31st minute.
Two minutes later, Srbley would chase down a hopeful ball played down the left-side of the Nashville box, prompting their keeper, CJ Cochran to rush off his line. Srbely won the foot race, lifting a touch over the sliding keeper before being brought down for a TFC II penalty kick – their third of the season.
Uccello would step to the spot in the 34th minute to firmly strike a well-placed right-footer past Cochran, tucking it low into the bottom left-corner of goal. The keeper went correctly, but could not reach the spot kick. It was Uccello’s third goal of the season.
For a second-straight week, Toronto took the lead in a match, just the fourth-time all season they have done so. Having not made the most of it in North Carolina, Bjornethun promised in the build-up that next time they took such a lead, they could “hold it down”.
Toronto saw out the rest of the half cleanly, nearly doubling their lead in the 35th minute when Srbely played a lovely outside of the boot ball into the path of Hundal, but the striker was unable to apply a clean finish as the ball skipped agonizingly beyond his reach.
Back for the second half, the Young Reds would get the precious second goal shortly after the restart. A long-throw from Kubel on the right was flicked on at the near-post by Hundal. Srbely collected, turned in-field and took a touch to find a yard of space before beating the keeper with a well-driven left-footed strike – his second goal of the season.
TFC II would see out the rest of the match with only minor concerns. Campbell and Uccello would be shown yellow cards for professional fouls – much like Eckenrode saw in the first half for his tactical bear-hug. Uccello’s would concede a dangerous free-kick that ended up in the back of the net, through Allen once more, only for the offside flag to again deny him a goal.
Rabasca would go to his bench for fresh legs in the final quarter of an hour, replacing Faria with Aidan Daniels, Waja with Robert Boskovic, and Hundal with Malik Johnson. And Patterson-Sewell would make a necessary save in stoppage-time when Tucker Hume got off a last-ditch header.
But all told, it was an exercise in closing out a match in a calm and professional manner; encouraging signs as the USL season is set to begin its final three months.
The 2-0 win will provide a nice boost for the side as they look to close out the year. Every match is a learning experience for TFC II; the lessons of not protecting the lead in North Carolina were on display on this night.
It was also just the third clean-sheet Toronto has managed through nineteen matches.
With 15 games remaining it will be interesting to see how the confidence garnered from getting this first win will impact the side.
The next take to the pitch on Saturday, August 4 when they travel to Pennsylvania for a match against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – a team that has caused them all kinds of trouble this year and seasons past. The Riverhounds have won the two previous meetings this season by a combined score of 6-1.
After that, a flurry of home matches is on the docket: a double-header at BMO Field after the first team plays NYC FC on August 12, where II faces the Richmond Kickers; a series-finale in Rochester against Bethlehem Steel FC on August 16; and the return to Lamport Stadium on August 31 against Atlanta United 2. All leading into an Ontario derby against Ottawa Fury FC at Lamport on September 6.