Toronto FC II head south this weekend in good spirits after picking up their first win of the season last Saturday.
Pennsylvania-bound for a Saturday night clash with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC at Highmark Stadium on the banks of the Monongahela River, the Young Reds will be looking to build off the 2-0 win over Nashville SC in Rochester last weekend – kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
For a second-straight week, TFC II took the lead – from the penalty spot when Luca Uccello converted the kick won by Matt Srbely – only this time, they were able to see it out, Srbely adding the second in the 47th minute.
“It’s good to get that first win,” said Srbely on Tuesday. “Get that good feeling throughout the team.”
Having scored and won the penalty, Srbely earned himself a spot in the USL Team of the Week, but asked about his own performance, he put the emphasis squarely on the team.
“It was a good game, but the team played amazing, so it makes it easier to play,” stressed Srbely. “It’s the team performance that matters.”
“Everybody put in a huge effort, we played well, everything aligned for us,” added the 19-year-old midfielder. “We looked at the player loads, everybody was up there, working hard. That’s the key to getting results.”
Michael Rabasca, who took over the managerial reins at the start of June, paused and smiled when asked about the result in Nashville.
“Just like previous results and losses, I was really happy with the way the guys trained during the week,” stressed Rabasca. “The result is part of the process. A good result reflects great process, great performances throughout the practices during the week.”
“The players pick up things quickly and to the extent that they use them during game, which they did against Nashville – they followed the game plan well – all of those things make the smile legitimate,” continued Rabasca. “If we had not had great practices, putting in the right process, I don’t think I would be as happy for that first win. That it was a shutout, doing things we had specifically worked on during the week, I can have a smile and be happy about it.”
The key now will be to continue to implement that process and keep that justified smile on the coach’s face.
“Just keep going,” urged Srbely. “Nashville is a good team. This should be a testament to how much we’ve worked, fixed mistakes. The belief in ourselves should just grow from here, continue to win games and put in good performances.”
For his part, Rabasca stressed the framework that has been laid as the foundation: “Process is more than one week.”
“Since I’ve come in, we’ve been stressing some things on the defensive side. We’ve seen in our metrics, upticks in these areas, we just haven’t seen the results to go along with them,” explained Rabasca. “Things like pressing the ball, maintaining and holding onto the ball.”
The side has been absorbing and implementing, but it wasn’t translating into results. Rabasca saw an added factor last weekend that finally turned the tide.
“What was significant and different was the mentality. There was belief,” said Rabasca. “Never a moment [of doubt] late in the game where in the past we haven’t been able to hold onto it. That was more of a mindset thing. This group looked pretty confident in the last 15 minutes, played with it. I hope that continues to be the trend.”
With that as the focus, going forward the plan is, “To not change what we’ve been doing,” according to Rabasca.
“There are times you might doubt or question where the process is going when you don’t get the results. I don’t know that one win says [too much],” accepted the coach. “I do know that the players seem to be prepared; ready to go. Their mindset is good.”
Implementation requires repetition; lots of it.
“In order to learn, you need to keep on repeating things, so there’s been a lot of repetition in what we do from a day-to-day basis,” said Rabasca, who would go on to emphasize all the work being put in behind the scenes by the players at TFC II.
“These guys show up at 9 a.m. and are not leaving until 3 p.m. That is an incredibly long day,” explained Rabasca. “Over the last two weeks, there is not just an acceptance, more like actually using the time to their benefit. Not just getting through the day, but being effective. That’s been a nice development.”
One has to put in the work in order to garner the benefits.
And they will be bolstered ahead of the next match, as news emerged on Thursday that the signalled addition of Tsubasa Endoh to the USL roster had been completed.
“Tsubasa, with the club, has a long history, in terms of what he represents for Toronto FC and the success we’ve had from the year that we drafted him until now,” said Rabasca. “There are a lot of positives that come with him. As a competitor, as a footballer, someone who understands the game and what we’re trying to do, it just seems natural. We don’t have to do a whole lot of teaching, or introduction of concepts. He understands.”
“From the competitive side, he’s a big competitor; adds a lot to the mindset and mentality of the group,” added Rabasca. “Those things make him a really good option; we’re really excited to have him.”
And though he has been training with the side for a while, whether he will be in the XI to face Pittsburgh remains to be seen.
In the Riverhounds, TFC II face a stiff test.
Pittsburgh enter the match in third-place in the Eastern Conference on 37 points from twenty matches with a record of ten wins, three losses, and seven draws.
Head coach Bob Lilley has the side braced for what should be an entertaining race to the playoffs. Just nine points separate the top four teams in the conference and there are a couple of games in hand that could only tighten the grouping even more.
Pittsburgh are six points off the pace of conference leaders FC Cincinnati, who, somewhat controversially, strengthened their roster with a pair of moves involving MLS players Fanendo Adi and Fatai Alashe. Should they hope to make up that ground, points cannot be dropped easily.
For that reason, a slight dip in recent weeks will be of some concern. Pittsburgh rebounded from a pair of losses (2-1 at North Carolina FC and 1-0 against the Charleston Battery, another team in the mix) with a 3-0 home win over the Richmond Kickers on Wednesday.
Neco Brett opened the scoring after five minutes and added a second in the 69th minute. Ben Fitzpatrick added the third in the final ten minutes.
Brett, who netted a hat-trick against TFC II back in April, leads the side with ten goals through nineteen appearances, while Romeo Parkes and Christiano Francois have three apiece, in fifteen and nineteen appearances, respectively.
A couple of veterans, Kenardo Forbes and Kevin Kerr help to pull the strings from midfield, with six and four assists, each.
Having lost both previous encounters this season, by a combined score of 6-1, TFC II know they are in for a challenge.
“High intensity team,” warned Srbely. “Their field is a bit tight, so they’re going to be all over us. But if we move the ball quickly, reduce our touches and move well, we can break them down.”
And with the feeling of victory fresh in the minds, there would be no better way to reinforce that confidence than by getting one over on a team that embarrassed them earlier this season.
“Winning helps everything, so Tuesday was a great practice, lots more smiles,” said Rabasca of the change in camp.
TFC II have never lacked confidence, but something foreboding over them loomed. That lingering sense of dread seemed to dissipate in how well they saw out the result over Nashville.
Banished, let it be gone for good.
“[They’ve] been waiting for the awful to happen inside a game,” assessed Rabasca. “They feel like the awful is gone and they’ll go on to winning and losing as a team, or based on the other team being distinctly better than them. In the past, they’ve come away going, ‘We were the better team’, but there was [always] one individual [awful] moment that made it difficult to win games.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and the match will be streamed on YouTube: