https://www.fccincinnati.com/news_article/show/949221Days after that entertaining 3-3 draw against New York Red Bulls II, Toronto FC II are back in action on Sunday afternoon when they travel to Ohio to face FC Cincinnati – kickoff is set for 4:30 p.m.
Having carved out a solid run of form with a trio of wins over Nashville SC, the Richmond Kickers, and Louisville City FC, Toronto would drop two straight matches at Lamport Stadium: against Atlanta United 2 and Ottawa Fury FC.
Much though those defeats stung, the performances were not dissimilar to what has slowly become the norm for TFC II: highly competitive outings that turn on key moments of good finishing and lax defending.
The match against Atlanta, which ended 2-1, could have easily gone either way, same for the Ottawa match where Toronto lost 4-3 in a goal-fest.
And that draw against Red Bulls II was very much a continuation of that theme: some excellent attacking play paired with a frailty on the defensive side of the game.
As with last season, Toronto have earned themselves a bit of a reputation as giant killers. The cracking 4-1 win in Louisville was the primary example this year, but last year too TFC II were fond of an upset.
This weekend’s opponent, FC Cincinnati, has already been on the receiving end of that bitter medicine.
When Cincinnati visited Toronto in June, they took a 3-0 first half lead at Lamport, but TFC II came storming back, scoring three unanswered points to salvage a stunning draw against a team that has taken USL by storm as they prepare to join MLS next season.
Cincinnati will not be underestimating Toronto.
“We had a couple of goals on [Toronto] up there and they came back in the second half and tied the game up 3-3,” goalkeeper Spencer Richey told fccincinnati.com this week. “We know the table is what it is, but you can’t overlook anyone in this league. We got a valuable lesson up at their place, so we’ll be ready for Sunday.”
Heading into the weekend’s round of fixtures, Cincinnati are the clear leaders atop both the league and the Eastern Conference.
On 63 points from 28 matches, Alan Koch’s side has already clinched a playoff berth and hold a seven point lead, with a game in hand, over Phoenix Rising FC as the best side in the USL. And in the East, they entered the weekend with fourteen points between them and second placed Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC.
With a record of nineteen wins, three losses, and six draws, Cincinnati are currently on a seventeen-match unbeaten run, stretching back to May 26 when they lost 2-0 against Louisville. They have won their last six matches by a combined scored of 14-3.
At Nippert Stadium, where Sunday’s match will be held, they are unbeaten in ten and have won their last three; though curiously with two losses and three draws in fifteen matches, they have dropped more points at home than they have on the road.
And coming off a 1-0 win over Louisville on Tuesday, a match that was halted due to inclement weather and completed a few days later, they will be relatively well-rested.
“A great team, been at the top of the table the whole season,” said Kyle Bjornethun before Toronto departed for New York. “We’ve seen them once, got a tie against them at home. A solid team, always have a good crowd.”
“It’s good to play a top-rated team, shows you where you stack up,” added the defender. “If you can hang with them then it’s a good measure of your character; what your team is made of.”
With an average attendance somewhere in the ballpark of 25 000 fans, Toronto FC II are braced for the pressure such an environment brings with it.
“There are little gamesmanship things to take the crowd out of it,” mused Chris Pozniak. “There isn’t really much advice you can give. It’s an experience. It’s really fun to play, so go enjoy it. Be careful of letting the game get away from you in spells when the crowd into it and [know] how to neutralize that.”
Prior to the draw earlier this season, Cincinnati had won all four previous meetings, but Toronto has never been an easy target, losing all four by a single goal, including a wild 4-3 on the final day of the 2017 season.
Sunday should be a good one. Tsubasa Endoh has been on fire, scoring five goals in eight appearances, as has Jordan Hamilton who has six in eight. And, unless they returned to Toronto after the New York match, first teamers Hamilton, Jon Bakero, and Liam Fraser, who was a joy to watch in midfield once more, should be available for selection by Michael Rabasca.
Toronto will not be cowed by the high-profile encounter.
“I’ve been in a couple games where it’s a big crowd,” said Bjornethun. “Even when it’s an away game, it really gets you going. You step on the pitch, there is nothing like a bunch of fans screaming at you or for you. It’s always fun to play with a good atmosphere and a good crowd.”
Kickoff is set for 4:30 p.m. and will be streamed on YouTube: