Toronto FC II are back in action come Thursday night for the first of two difficult away fixtures on the schedule this week.
Up first is a visit to New York, where they will face Red Bulls II at MSU Soccer Park – kickoff is set for 7 p.m. – and then, on Sunday they travel to Ohio to square off against FC Cincinnati and their raucous home crowd at Nippert Stadium.
Toronto enters this two-game set on the back of two straight home defeats in quick succession, first a 2-1 loss to Atlanta United 2 and most recently a 4-3 to Ottawa Fury FC
Reinforced with a handful of first team players during the international break against Ottawa, it was Fury FC who scored first and despite a quick start to the second half that saw Jon Bakero and Tsubasa Endoh pull the side level, and a Jordan Hamilton penalty kick to re-equalize once more after an own-goal, Toronto could not keep the visitors at bay.
With eight matches left in the 2018 USL season, eliminated from playoff-contention, TFC II will be looking to close out the year by focusing on the continual improvement that has been the central theme all campaign long.
“We want to see good individual performances, which lead to good team performances,” said assistant coach Chris Pozniak. “We’re taking it one game at a time... a bit of a cliche. More specifically, five-ten minute intervals at a time.”
The first challenge – Red Bulls II – will be a familiar one, as the two sides have already met twice this season: New York took the season opener 2-1 at Red Bull Arena and they split the points following a scoreless draw at BMO Field on April 28.
Coming into the match off a 3-0 loss away to Indy Eleven last Wednesday, a defeat that ended a three-match unbeaten run, John Wolyniec has his Red Bulls II side in the midst of the playoff race on 40 points from 28 matches with a record of ten wins, eight losses, and ten draws: good enough for seventh spot in the Eastern Conference.
A single point ahead of Nashville SC who hold the eighth and final spot and two ahead of Ottawa who sit in ninth, Red Bull II sit in the middle of a pack of six teams separated by seven points. As it stands, only three will reach the post-season. With each having played a different number of games, every point going forward will be crucial.
Home, Montclair State University Soccer Park, has been where New York has gotten the majority of their results this season. All ten of their wins have come there (or at Red Bull Arena, where they played early in the year as renovations were completed at MSU).
New York are unbeaten in their last two at home: a 1-0 win over Ottawa at the end of August and a 2-2 draw with North Carolina FC on August 21.
The two sides have met eight times over the years, with Red Bull dominating the series with six wins and two draws. Familiarity breeds contempt.
Known for their energetic style and high press, much like their MLS side, TFC II know just what to expect from Thursday’s opponent.
“Our players are familiar,” said Pozniak of the RBNY II challenge. “It’s easy to understand what Red Bull are trying to do; difficult to play against. Recognize that the press is coming, where the outs are, and how to play quickly through it.”
Defender Kyle Bjornethun said: “The mood is good.”
“Going into a tough opponent, a team that will press hard – what their organization is known for – is a good challenge for us,” explained Bjornethun. “Our team has a good identity of not being too down on ourselves. It’s been a rough season, but the mood is up because there is a lot of growth that has still come for all of us.”
The match will be streamed on YouTube (below) – kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
TFC II will stay on the road, travelling directly to Cincinnati for Sunday’s encounter with the run-away Eastern Conference leaders.
With six of their remaining matches on the road, this weekend will provide a good test for Toronto ahead of the final weeks of the season.
“The expectation is always to go and get a result, to be difficult to play against and create some stuff on our own,” said Pozniak. “Always it’s a tricky situation when you go on a two-game road trip, you can’t look forward to the second game. You’ve got to focus on the first one, get a result, regroup quickly and go after the second one.”