TORONTO, ON- When Toronto FC II kick off their 2021 USL League 1 campaign against North Texas Rising SC on May 22, it will be the first time that the Young Reds have played a competitive match in nearly two years.
595 days after playing to a 1-1 draw with the Chatanooga Red Wolves, TFC II looks a lot different. While many players have re-signed, most of the group has either graduated to the MLS side or moved on to other chapters in their lives.
The 2021 USL League 1 season will also be extremely different from past USL campaigns, as no matches will occur in the GTA; instead, TFC II will make their home Casa Grande, AZ and Kissimmee FL.
NEW COACH: Mike Munoz
While new players will try to establish themselves within the club, Head Coach Mike Munoz will also debut with TFC’s second team. Ali Curtis and TFC staff appointed Munoz to the position in January 2020, but the 37-year-old has yet to walk the sidelines in match action.
Meanwhile, former TFC II head coach Michael Rabasca, who initially moved onto become TFC’s director of high performance, is back with the LA Galaxy as their director of cognitive performance.
Before joining Toronto, Munoz spent six years with the Galaxy, where he amassed coaching experience with the U14s, U16s, U18s, LA’s USL side and served as the Galaxy Academy Director. With several years of experience managing young players and learning the intricacies of working in an MLS club, Munoz is a good fit for a young and raw TFC II roster.
With the new coach also comes new players. So without further adieu, a brief rundown of the faces on Toronto’s, nay, Casa Grande’s USL League 1 team. The players are listed by their experience with TFC II in the past.
Caleb Patterson-Sewell is the most experienced player on the TFC II roster and is the oldest by nearly a decade. The goalkeeper played for TFC II in 2018 and 2019 but is returning to the roster not only as a steady hand in net but a player-coach to help many of his teammates in their first pro seasons.
Most recently, he served as the pool keeper for MLS in the 2020 season. The emergency goalkeeper role was just the latest stop on his 16-year professional career, and rejoining the club he was last at in a new role signals the end of a long-playing career.
However, while he is an experienced member to make the pro adjustment easier on the youth, he is also a solid goalkeeper after recording five clean sheets in 25 matches with TFC II. He will likely get a split of games with Andreas Vaikla, who is next on our list.
You see? You didn’t have to read much more to get to Andreas Vaikla, TFC II’s new Estonian international between the sticks.
Vaikla was born in Toronto but has spent the majority of his career in Europe. At 24-years-old, the 6-foot-5 goalkeeper comes to Toronto from JK Narva Trans of Estonia, where he made 11 appearances and kept a clean sheet in 2020’s shortened season.
He has three caps with the Estonian senior national team, including a clean sheet in his debut back in June 2016. Although it has been a while since he has represented Estonia, a good run of games in the USL could put him back in the fold of the 116th ranked FIFA nation. Vaikla is likely to split starts with Patterson-Sewell in Arizona, before Brogan Engbers also enters the fold in Florida.
Brogan Engbers has spent the last four years in the NCAA with the Liberty University Flames, three clean sheets in 16 appearances across the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Before heading to college soccer, he was a part of the TFC Academy, which he joined when he was 12-years-old.
Although he has excellent connections with the club and had a successful collegiate career, there are concerns about his stature. Standing at 5’11”, he is far from a towering goalkeeper, but his athleticism has afforded him success, including a nod to Canada’s squad for the 2015 Concacaf U-17 Championship.
The now 22-year-old Engbers made his TFC II debut when he played against Italian youth side A.S. Roma Primavera in a friendly on July 28, 2015. Engbers is in Florida and will not be with TFC II in Arizona to begin the season.
Dante Campbell: RB
One of the veteran, reliable names on TFC II, Dante Campbell, is back for his fifth year with the Young Reds. Still young at 21, the TFC Academy grad spent the 2020 season on loan with the Canadian Premier League’s Valour FC in the Island Games, where he played five matches, as Winnipeg only allowed nine goals. However, Valour failed to make it past the first stage, cutting his CPL experience short.
While his time with Valour was shorter than expected, he got a professional season under his belt and will return to the Young Reds with more experience than most of his new teammates. There is little doubt that Campbell will be a stalwart on the right side of the backline.
Luca Petrasso: MF/D
Few on TFC II is as familiar to the club as Luca Petrasso, who has been with the club for the last three seasons. Now 20-years-old, he is still a young player, but with his experience, Munoz is likely to call upon him for regular minutes.
Petrasso has appeared in 35 matches through the past three seasons and has scored two goals from the backline. While TFC II’s roster will look a lot different in 2021 than it did in 2019, the Toronto-born defender will offer a sense of stability and continuity in the lineup.
Themi Antonoglou: LB
At left-back, the 19-year-old Themi Antonoglou is one of the players that should wet the palette of TFC’s MLS supporters, as he could very well sign an MLS deal in the near future.
While he did not play in 2020, the homegrown TFC Academy product appeared in two USL League 1 matches in 2019, playing 109 minutes. Despite the small sample size at the professional level, Antonoglou showed he could play with players much older, and at left-back, he was a positive force moving forward.
26% of his passes in 2019 were progressive, and a heavier workload will only allow him to use his offensive instincts more. Although he is no daunting figure, the 5-foot-6 fullback is quick and has offensive instincts.
He scored six goals in two games when he was 10-years-old for West Toronto United, but take that for what you will.
Nyal Higgins: CB
Centreback Nyal Higgins is technically a returning player, although he has never played for the Young Reds. Toronto signed him in 2020 after selecting him 19th overall in the 2020 MLS Superdraft. However, he did not sit on the sidelines since being selected; rather, the club loaned him to Nyköpings Bis in the Swedish third division.
Only featuring sporadically in Sweden, Higgins is very raw heading into his second pro season. Splitting his collegiate career between Oakland and Syracuse, he was named to the All-Horizon League Second Team in 2017 and 2018 and represented Canada at the youth levels.
Still just 23, Higgins has a fair way to go to catch up to Toronto’s other draft selection Ifunanyachi Achara (25th) and the other Canadians who were selected above him in Ryan Raposo (VAN) and Allistair Johnson (NSH). However, with regular USL minutes, he could develop into an MLS player.
Rohan Goulbourne: LB
Yet another player set to make his professional debut in 2021, Rohan Goulbourne, is one of the latest success stories of the TFC Academy program. Signed in December of 2020, the Brampton, Ontario native has big-stage experience, having represented Canada at the U17 Concacaf Championships and U17 FIFA World Cup.
Only 19-years-old, the Jamaican-Canadian left-back will get valuable rookie experience in 2021 with TFC II.
Kevin Politz: CB
Politz, 25, is a solid USL veteran defender who comes to the Reds after playing for the USL Championship’s Hartford Athletic in 2020. Before his time in Hartford, Politz spent time with League 1’s Greenville Triumph and New York Red Bulls II.
Coming from the Red Bulls organization, the former Wake Forest University defender has experience playing in a system utilized by TFC first-team Head Coach Chris Armas. Having players with experience with Armas’ tactics on the USL Reds will be valuable in establishing a consistent playing style throughout the football club.
Talen Maples: CB
One of the newest faces to the Toronto soccer community, Talen Maples, enters his first professional season after TFC selected him in the third round of the 2021 MLS Superdraft. While he may have been chosen later in the draft, he has upside heading into his first pro season.
A former defender for Southern Methodist University in the NCAA, the 22-year-old centreback trained with the MLS side in Flordia in the preseason and has impressed Munoz and the MLS staff. Although he was not a high-pick, such as Tsubasa Endoh or Ifunanyachi Achara, he fits the club’s vision and enters a pipeline that has proven to be successful.
Antony Curic: CB/CDM
Another graduate of TFC’s Academy, Antony Curic, has taken a slightly different route to USL League 1 than his teammates. Curic played in U SPORTS soccer, the Canadian collegiate level for the Ryerson Universtiy Rams. Before joining the Rams, he had a one-week trial with French Ligue 2 club FC Lorient.
Curic, 20, played 12 games with the Rams, an impressive amount for an 18-year-old rookie centre-back in the Ontario University Athletics circuit. He is not the first TFC II played to come from the Rams, not even the first defender, as he follows in the path of ex-Ryerson student-athlete Robert Boskovic, who is now with Cavalry FC.
The 2021 season won’t be Antonio Carlini’s first rodeo with TFC II. While it will be his first professional campaign, the now 20-year-old debuted with the second team in 2019 against South Georgia Tormenta and went on to play three times before the season’s end. He was on an academy contract, whereas now he will play for the Young Reds as a professional.
Julian Altobelli has had a whirlwind of the past couple of seasons. After being a part of the TFC Academy since he was 11, he signed a multi-year deal to join York United (York 9 FC) in 2020, where he hoped to find more playing time. However, Altobelli, then 17, went unused in the CPL’s Island Games tournament and was released by York United at his request.
Now nearly two years removed from a competitive match, he is with TFC II and will try to establish himself in the midfield. The 18-year-old has represented Canada at the U17 Concacaf Championships and FIFA World Cup,
He described himself to CanPL.ca as “quick on the dribble” and someone who has a good eye for picking out teammates who are making runs off the ball.
Although he is young, the year with York United, despite not playing, will have given him some experience heading into what is hopefully a successful professional season.
Nico Ovalle joined Toronto for the 2020 USL League 1 season, but after the club pulled out of the campaign, he never got to make his debut. He joined the Young Reds from Chilean club Unión Española and has represented Chile at the youth level. He was on the preliminary roster for the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017 but did not make the final cut.
Recently turned 21, Ovalle is used to playing in Arizona after spending three years with the Real Salt Lake-AZ program, which included time at Grande Sports World, where TFC II is based for the beginning of the season.
Like many of his teammates, Steffen Yeates is another feather in the cap of TFC’s player development system. While he came through the TFC Academy, he rejoined the club after a collegiate soccer career split between the University of Connecticut Huskies and Oregon State.
A former Canadian youth international, the 21-year-old represented his country at the Concacaf Men’s U17 Championship in 2017 while also pulling on the national team red at the 2018 Men’s U20 Championship.
Speaking to WTR, Mike Munoz singled out Kosi Thompson as someone who has stood out in training so far. Thompson joins TFC II after several years in the TFC Academy programs, where he scored 16 goals in 20 appearances across three age groups (U13, U16/17 and U18/19).
Although the winger is another member of the “never have played a professional game” club, Munoz knows that Thompson, among others, has the quality to adapt to a new level. “With these guys, it’s just going to be about being patient,” he said. “Knowing that they’ve never played a pro match before, knowing they haven’t competed in a long time, but we expect them to catch on quickly.”
At 18, Nakye Greenidge-Duncan will be one of the youngest players on the TFC II team sheet. Another product of the TFC Academy, he was part of the U-16 team that won the 2019 Dallas Cup. He has been an offensive contributor during his time with the Academy and will look to translate that into success in his first professional season.
TFC II will have two of Toronto’s 2021 MLS Superdraft picks on their roster in Talen Maples and Paul Rothrock. TFC selected the 22-year-old Rothrock in the third round of the draft at 64th overall after splitting his NCAA career between Notre Dame and Georgetown from 2017 to 2020.
While he has yet to debut for TFC II, Rothrock has played in the USL before, appearing for the Seattle Sounders affiliate, then S2 in 2017. He may have only been in the USL for a short time, but he made an impact, scoring S2’s line goal in a 4-1 loss to the Real Monarchs.
A 2019 NCAA champion with the Georgetown Hoyas, Rothrock is primed to fit in at the USL League 1 level and will likely get his solid share of playing time in the Young Reds’ midfield.
Enric Bernat Lunar
One of the more intriguing additions to the TFC II midfield, Enric Bernat Lunar, heads to Munoz’s side after spending time with Lleida Esportiu in the Spanish third division. However, 23 and with international professional experience under his belt, he will offer a veteran presence that will be valuable to a young team playing miles away from their homes.
At 6-foot-2, he is one of the taller midfielders on the roster, and that, combined with his experience at the pro level, will likely mean a hefty amount of playing time for the Spaniard.
Garret McLaughlin is a consummate professional and is one of the most experienced players on the TFC II roster. He has pro experience under his belt from playing with the Rio Grande Valley Toros, the USL Championship affiliate of the Houston Dynamo.
McLaughlin, 23, featured in 11 matches with the Toros in 2020, mere months after the Dynamo selected him 8th overall in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft. Before his time with the Toros, the Oklahoma-born forward played collegiate soccer from 2016-2019 at Southern Methodist University.
With so few forwards on the TFC II roster, Munoz and his staff will rely on McLaughlin to carry the brunt of the offence through the beginning of the season before first-team players become available in Florida.
Stats provided by USL, OUA, and FB Reference