TORONTO, CANADA - There are not many things in sports better than a playoff race, and for Toronto FC II, that is precisely where they find themselves. With three games to go, the Young Reds are looking for any advantage they can find with hopes of pushing their way through to the playoffs.
The 2021 USL League One season has featured one of the tightest playoffs races ever seen, so much so that even dropping points in the middle of the year proved costly to playoff positioning, and teams bounced above and below the red line.
With three matches to go for most sides, including Toronto, only one team is out of playoff contention, and just two teams have claimed one of the six available playoff spots. The Young Reds, now calling Canada home, find themselves right in the middle of the mess.
Sitting below the red line after 25 games, the Young Reds face a formidable opponent to start their final stretch as they visit the Chattanooga Red Wolves in a match that is effectively a must-win. However, it is no easy task, as the Red Wolves are one of the two teams already qualified for the post-season and have been the league’s top side throughout the campaign.
The TFC II lineup is a strong one, led by striker Garett McLaughlin and fullback Luca Petrasso; however, playing home games in three different locations took a toll on the team, one that puts them on the outside looking in heading into the final stretch.
McLaughlin, a former Houston Dynamo MLS Superdraft pick, was a shining light at the beginning of the season, but his goalscoring trend has slowed to a near halt, as he finds himself stuck on eight goals, despite playing 22 games this season.
Much of Toronto’s transition has come through Petrasso and fellow fullback Kobe Franklin, two players who have displayed incredible consistency throughout the season, yet fullbacks are not the type of player to drive an attack.
Head Coach Mike Munoz has tinkered with the lineup all season but has been pretty set on playing those two as fullbacks, accompanying them with a rotating cast of midfielders, and centre backs, buoyed by MLS loan players.
The likes of Jayden Nelson, Jacob Shaffelburg, Luke Singh, among others, have all spent time with the Young Reds this season. While they have pushed the quality to a higher level, their presence disrupted some of the consistency shown throughout the year. All that said, having better players in the lineup helps improve a team.
While Toronto FC II does not have to win all three games to qualify for the playoffs, it would certainly help, and they are not even guaranteed a postseason ticket if they do claim all nine points. FC Tucson, a club also in the battle, dropped a match to last place North Carolina SC midweek, making things a little easier for the Young Reds but not offering any certainty.
Through the season, the Munoz’s men have had to play in three places, two countries and adjust to life under a new manager at the first-team level. To say that it has been a difficult season for TFC II would be an understatement, yet here they are, battling for a playoff spot in the last few games of the season.
Playoff races, late drama and good matches, three things that sum up why sport is the best reality TV show out there, and TFC II offers a pretty thrilling episode.