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A stroke of luck & a lengthy delay not enough for TFC II in Tampa Bay

The Young Reds lose 3-1 on road against the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Independence Day

USL Photo - Toronto FC II’s Luca Uccello closes down a Tampa Bay Rowdies attacker on Independence Day in Florida
TFC II’s Luca Uccello closes down a Tampa Bay attacker on Wednesday night in Florida
Matt May

Toronto FC II dropped a second-straight match losing 3-1 to the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium on Wednesday night.

On the heels of a 4-0 second half dismantling from the Charleston Battery at BMO Field on Sunday, TFC II hit the road for their third match of the week, having come from behind in a thrilling 3-3 draw with FC Cincinnati at Lamport Stadium last Wednesday.

The hosts took the lead in the eighth minute when Georgi Hristov latched onto a long ball out of the back from goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald, lobbing it over Toronto keeper Borja Angoitia. TFC II conceding near-simultaneously with the first team in Minnesota.

Tampa Bay would double their lead after half-time when Leon Taylor got on the end of some good work from Leo Fernandes down the right-side of the area to touch in at the near-post. Toronto would pull one back in the 58th minute when Luca Uccello’s deep free-kick troubled Fitzgerald, who dropped the delivery into the goal as he stumbled.

But following a nearly hour-long weather delay, Joe Cole added Tampa Bay’s third to seal the result.

Playing a third match in short order, Michael Rabasca made several changes. Rocco Romeo replaced Robert Boskovic alongside Julian Dunn in the centre of defence. Kyle Bjornethun, available after serving his one-match suspension for caution accumulation and sporting the captain’s armband on the night, took up the left-back spot in place of Tim Kubel. Dante Campbell held down the right-back slot once more.

Gideon Waja was reinserted alongside Noble Okello in the two-man deep midfield shield, while Jordan Faria was added to patrol the left-side of the attacking midfield. Shaan Hundal reprized his striking role, while Uccello and Malik Johnson completed the band of three with Faria: Johnson operating centrally and Uccello on the right. Bojra Angoitia made his third-straight start between the posts for the side.

Primed for a difficult night in sweltering conditions, falling behind early was a bad omen for Toronto on the night.

Allowing an aerial ball to drop is always a dangerous prospect for a defender, and when Dunn did so with Fitzgerald’s punt, it allowed the ever-dangerous Hristov to get his right boot to the bouncing ball, earning himself a bit of history in the process. The goal was his 58th for the club, becoming their all-time leading scorer.

Beat by Hristov, Angoitia was called upon to make several saves through the first half: getting down well to get to a low Hristov strike in the 26th minute (he took a shin to the head and needed treatment for his effort) and come the 37th minute he had to parried a ferocious blast from Martin Vingaard.

The Basque keeper did very well to cover his near-post in the final minutes of the half when Cole found space to turn and tried to pick out the top-corner, sending his shot wide.

These early looks at the new keeper have shown him to be an excellent communicator, talking the side through how he wants them positioned as play develops. A few of the ten goals conceded through the three matches he may want back, but on the whole he has been a solid addition. Plus, he’s rocking a pretty killer ‘stache.

Come the second half, Angoitia had to be sharp to get a hand to a weak Hristov shot across him after Cole turned and found his attack partner down the right.

But Tampa Bay would add their second in the 54th minute later through Taylor. Some excellent work down the right-side of the box by Fernandes created the chance and Taylor found himself unmarked in a pocket of space at the near-post for a simple finish.

USL Photo - Toronto FC II’s Dante Campbell stretches to bring down a ball against the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Independence Day
TFC II’s Dante Campbell brings down a ball with a high stretch on Wednesday against Tampa Bay
Matt May

Toronto, who did not manage a shot on goal all night, were handed a path back in the 58th minute when Uccello sailed a deep free-kick towards the goal. Fitzgerald went up to collect, rather than tip it over the bar and concede a corner, but was neither able to hold it, nor keep his balance as he and the ball fell back into the net.

TFC II made their first substitution before play restarted, replacing the deep-lying Okello with Matt Srbely, signalling an intent to push forward more, but the next few chances would come the Rowdies way,. The phases after a corner kick saw Fernandes hit the far-post from a tight angle and new addition Stefano Bonomo kiss his effort from the middle of the box off the top of the bar in the 63rd minute.

Aidan Daniels came on for Faria in the 66th minute, TFC II seeking to inject his drive and energy into the match.

But before he could have an impact, play was halted in the 70th minute as the rain began to pour down and lightning was reported in the area. A lengthy delay of nearly an hour, saw an epic game of Connect Four on Twitter. Alas, TFC II would lose that one as well.

Both sides made changes when play resumed, Kubel coming in for Bjornethun. Cole tried to use his veteran wiles to get possession from the restart, maintaining that Tampa Bay had had the ball when the whistle was blown, but it was an argument he did not win.

Cole would get his way come the 79th minute when he found a pocket of space, evading pressure from Uccello before beating Angoitia with a low right-footer that picked out the bottom left-corner from the edge of the area.

An archive of the match is available on YouTube.

Rabasca and his Young Reds now have some two-plus weeks between fixtures. Their next match was meant to come on July 18 when they visit Louisville City FC, but that match was just rescheduled to August 28.

Instead, their July 21 trip to face North Carolina FC is their next action. That will give Rabasca some more time to work with the players, instilling his ideas further.

Their next proper home match will not come until August 12 when the Richmond Kickers come to town. Before then the aforementioned trip to and another road match against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC on August 4 bookend their third match in Rochester on July 28, when Nashville SC meets them at Marina Auto Stadium.