Leading into the match against Atlanta, TFC II were in good spirits off the back of a massive 4-1 road win over defending USL Cup champions, Louisville City FC, a result that was the side’s third win in six matches. The loss, however, saw Toronto pass up a chance to make up ground between themselves and the team directly above them in the Eastern Conference standings.
An injury to Tim Kubel early in the match forced an unexpected change and shortly thereafter Atlanta took the lead through Lagos Kunga. A red card to Atlanta’s Tyler Ruthven just before half-time offered an advantage to Toronto, but a second goal from Kunga shortly after the restart, as well as some solid defensive work from the visitors, was enough to hold off TFC II who pulled one back late in stoppage-time through Matt Srbely – his third goal of the season.
“A little disappointed with some of the individual defending,” said assistant coach Chris Pozniak on Tuesday about the result against Atlanta. “Also, we couldn’t break down a tight block of ten men.”
“It’s more difficult to play that way, a team playing on the counter, having a low block, not a lot of space in behind them,” added Pozniak. “It’s a step we haven’t got to yet, showed in the game.”
Toronto has not had many opportunities to play on the front foot and up a man this season, but as with every match, it was a lesson in how to compete and maximize output in the professional game.
“A lot of things we can look back and learn from,” said Srbely. “We could have dictated the game more; really taking it to them. Defensively, better as well. It’s a learning experience, we move forward; try to correct the mistakes we made in that game.”
A chance to get back on the pitch and, perhaps, face a team that will offer a similar challenge style-wise comes almost immediately with the visit of Ottawa on Thursday.
Fury FC coach Nikola Popovic has his side in position to battle for a post-season berth. On 35 points from 28 matches, with a record of ten wins, thirteen losses and five draws, Ottawa sits just three points outside of the final position in the East (currently held by Nashville SC).
But with both Nashville and North Carolina FC, who trail Ottawa by a single point, having two games in hand, the three points on offer against TFC II will be very valuable.
Having started slowly, Ottawa rose up the table with a strong run midseason based on solid defensive performances. That has dipped a little in recent weeks as they come to Toronto on a four-game winless streak, having lost their last three by a combined score of 5-0.
Goal-scoring was always a sore point for the Fury – their goal-difference in minus-ten, but to have not scored in four matches at such a crucial time is never a good thing.
The road has been particularly unkind to Ottawa, who have a record of three wins, eight losses, and two draws on their travels. There too they have lost their last three and are winless in four. Between that and the table, they will be hungry to leave the Ontario derby with the full three points and wouldn’t mind racking up more than a single goal in the process.
Three players – Steevan Dos Santos, Tony Taylor, and Kevin Oliveira – are joint top-scorers with four goals each; Adonijah Reid has chipped in with three, while both Nana Attakora and Carl Haworth have two to their names.
Dos Santos also leads the side in assists with four to his credit, while Haworth, Oliveira, Taylor and Jimmy-Shammar Sanon each have two.
Playing up a man for more than 45 minutes against Atlanta may have been good preparation for the visit of Ottawa.
Pozniak is, “Expecting a little bit of the same.”
“They’ve thrived on playing deep and they’re very good on the counter,” suggested the assistant coach. “Also quite good on set-pieces, have some very experienced players that can draw free-kicks, win corners.”
Said Srbely: “Good team; have some experienced guys, young guys as well.”
“We beat them in an exhibition earlier this year, I believe we can do it again,” added the midfielder. “We’ve just got to focus on the details and we’ll get a good result.”
It is a derby after all, regardless of whether in the USL or the Canadian Championship when the Fury duel with the MLS side.
The two USL sides have already met this season, back on May 30 at TD Place Stadium, where the Fury won 3-0 on a brace from Dos Santos and another from Attakora.
And they will meet for the third time on September 26 when Ottawa comes to town once more.
Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. at Lamport Stadium – for those who cannot make it down, it will be streamed on YouTube: