On the heels of a midweek defeat at the hands of provincial rivals, Ottawa Fury FC, Toronto FC II are heading to south for a Saturday encounter against the Charleston Battery.
Including this one, TFC II have four games left in the 2018 USL season. They return home next Friday for the final home date, against Louisville City FC at Lamport Stadium, before ending the season with away trips to Nashville SC and Penn FC.
After some wild, turbulent, goal-filled matches, a relatively straight-forward match against Ottawa was a change of pace. The Fury took the lead in the first half through a controversial penalty kick and locked down their end, letting TFC II dominate possession, but holding them at bay throughout the second frame.
Having conceded fifteen goals through their previous four matches, the defensive solidity was a welcome change of pace for coach Michael Rabasca. But that another penalty kick – the eighth of the season – was gifted to the opposition was frustrating.
Following the 4-0 loss away to Bethlehem Steel FC last weekend, Chris Pozniak stressed that shoring up the defense was the aim heading into this week and explained that, to a certain extent, the openness at the back was a function of getting the attack firing: Toronto had scored an impressive nine goals in three matches heading into Pennsylvania where they were shutout.
Finding that right balance, between opening up enough to create and take advantage of chances, while also making sure there is adequate coverage at the back is the eternal problem.
Given that Charleston dropped four on Toronto in the second half of their meeting earlier this season, Saturday will be another test at striking that equilibrium.
Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser has his side ticking over nicely as the playoff approach.
Charleston are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference on 53 points from 31 matches with a record of thirteen wins, four losses, and fourteen draws.
Five points ahead of the fifth-placed side, Indy Eleven, Charleston will be looking to clinch their berth with a result on Saturday while also making up some ground on the two teams directly ahead of them: Louisville City and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, who both have a game in hand on the Battery.
Well-off the blistering pace of regular season champions FC Cincinnati – nineteen points separate the two – Charleston trail Louisville by a single point and Pittsburgh by three as they jockey for positioning and home-field advantage.
On a six-match unbeaten run, the Battery have not lost since August 18 when they fell 3-0 away to Cincinnati. At home that form is more emphatic: unbeaten in 15, stretching back to an opening day 1-0 loss to that same Cincinnati on March 17, their only defeat at MUSC Health Stadium this season.
Charleston has, however, dropped points in two of their last four home fixtures, drawing against Nashville and New York Red Bulls II in recent weeks.
Ataulla Guerra leads the side with fourteen goals in 27 appearances; Guerra and Nicholas Rittmeyer are co-leaders with four assists apiece.
The Battery have dominated the all-time series with five wins to TFC II’s two, but one of those came last season when Toronto upset the Battery 1-0 with Shaan Hundal scoring the winner.
Charleston took their revenge earlier this season at BMO Field with a 4-0 win on July 1. TFC II went toe-to-toe with the Battery through the opening 45 minutes, but the floodgates opened in the second half with Guerra, Kotaro Higashi, O’Brian Woodbine, and Gordon Wild scoring in the 59th, 61st, 82nd and 91st minutes, respectively.
As this season winds down, the eye casts on to the next. A modicum of additional clarity was revealed midweek with the unveiling of the new USL structure on the model of the English Football League.
The current league will hence forth be named USL Championship, what has been referred to as D3, where TFC II will play in 2019, will be called USL League One, and the former PDL will become USL League Two.
To go with the new home, Toronto announced a trio of teenage signings for next season on Thursday.
18-year-old left-back, Terique Mohammed, 17-year-old midfielder, Mehdi Essoussi, and 15-year-old midfielder/forward Jayden Nelson have all signed for 2019; all three, as well as all the other current TFC II players that are U-19, are eligible for the oldest TFC Academy side playing in USSDA.
Mohammed is the only one to have featured for TFC II, getting valuable minutes over the last two months, but the addition of a youngster like Nelson to the player pool shines some light on why the move to D3/League One may be the right one for Toronto.
The match against Charleston will be streamed on YouTube (below) – kickoff is set for 7 p.m.