Toronto FC II continue their six-match road trip to kickoff the 2019 USL League One season on Saturday night when they travel to Arizona to face FC Tucson at the Kino Sports Complex.
With a 2-0 win over Orlando City B in the season opener, TFC II will be looking to continue that strong start.
Tucson have three points on the season through two matches, having won their opener 3-1 at Orlando and falling by the same scoreline away to South Georgia Tormenta FC on April 3.
“The two games we were able to see they played Orlando and Tormenta,” said TFC II coach Michael Rabasca. “It’s a little hard to get a feel for them: early in the season, two games on the road. It’s their home opener, so we should anticipate some energy from them.”
“The broken record is: we have a plan, trying to build [into] the next game,” continued Rabasca. “There are some things we look at from Tuscon that have already been built into our team, so it’s a matter of option B now, not option A, and we hope that the players execute. That will tell us a lot about their growth, development, and ability to play with the first team.”
Forward Guillermo Delgado, 24, leads Darren Sawatzky’s side through these early days with two goals in as many games, and TFC II will be welcomed to Arizona by a familiar face: Kyle Bjornethun, who played for the Young Reds last season is now with Tucson.
Given the amount of turnover Toronto saw in the offseason, a slow start would not be a surprise, but with a busy and lengthy preseason under their belts, the side is “coming together really nicely,” according to Jacob Shaffelburg.
“All fitting together,” continued the 19-year-old forward/winger. “It’s a great team and it’s going to be a great season.”
Incremental improvement is the name of the game.
“Every week we get better, in training showing different things that the coach says he likes and every game we’ve progressed,” added Fito Ovalle, lumping in the three preseason fixtures with the season opener. “It’s looking good for us, we just have to keep the humble attitude and keep working.”
With a bubble currently still covering the field at the BMO Training Ground where TFC II will play and renovations yet to begin, this lengthy road trip to kickoff the year has the added benefit of encouraging the team building that will serve the side well over a long and busy season, especially for player unfamiliar with such vast travel.
“It’s going to bring the group together, but it’s going to be pretty tough for me, coming from a prep school where the farthest game is a four-hour drive,” said Shaffelburg. “Being on an airplane every week is going to be a new challenge, but I’m up for it.”
And the side will be a little short-handed with several players heading to Texas for the Generation Adidas and Dallas Cups this weekend. Not that that will affect their approach.
“It’s going to be tough, we have a lot of guys going to the Dallas Cup, but we have a solid group,” said Shaffelburg. “The same mentality as the first game: go out, try and be on the front foot, finish the opportunities that we get.”
Do not be surprised if once more some first team players are available for Rabasca this weekend. TFC has a very busy May ahead, and anybody who will not be in the 18 for match against Seattle Sounders FC could be headed to Arizona.
“Tuscon is going to be an older team than us, so in that sense more experienced,” said Ovalle. “They’re good at pressing, but we’ve seen tape and feel if we play to the best of our ability, we can come back with at least a point; we’re looking for three.”
The match will be streamed on YouTube and at torontofc.ca with kickoff set for 10:30 p.m.
Elsewhere in the USL this weekend
Luca Uccello made his season debut for Memphis 901 FC on Wednesday night, coming on in the 55th minute of their 1-0 home loss against Atlanta United 2. Memphis travels to Nashville SC on Saturday with kickoff set for 8 p.m.
Aidan Daniels was a second half substitute for the Ottawa Fury in their 3-0 home opener defeat at the hands of Nashville SC last Saturday. Daniels, Shaan Hundal, and Robert Boskovic will aim to help Ottawa bounce back on Saturday at 2 p.m. when the Fury host Loudoun United FC.
Malik Johnson has yet to feature for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, who won 4-0 on Saturday over Hartford Athletic. Tampa Bay will look to continue their unbeaten start to the season on Saturday night when they host Louisville City FC at 7:30 p.m.
Jon Bakero played 90 minutes for Phoenix Rising FC in a 0-0 draw at home against Fresno FC on Saturday. Phoenix hit the road on Saturday night with a trip to face El Paso Locomotive FC – kickoff at 9:30 p.m.
All matches will be streamed on the USL Championship YouTube channel