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TFC II look to the history books ahead of FC Tucson clash

Toronto FC II have never won their first two matches of a season, a feat they will try to reach on Wednesday in Arizona.

TORONTO, Canada—On Wednesday night, Toronto FC II will attempt to do something they have not done in their USL history: win the first two matches of the season.

After a stunning 2-1 victory over North Texas SC in Saturday’s season opener, the Young Reds take to the pitch against FC Tucson for their second match in five days. With Toronto playing their games in Arizona, Wednesday’s match offers up a bit of a pseudo-derby between the Casa Grande-based TFC II and Tucson, whose home field is just 125 kilometres away.

The match kicks off at 10:00 pm ET on the USL League 1 YouTube channel.

While Toronto has still not had many opportunities to train as an entire squad, a bit of matchplay under their belts will undoubtedly aid them. However, TFC II’s second scheduled match in eight days is only the beginning of their jam-packed start to the season.

Led by striker Garret McLaughlin, TFC II put on a stellar performance against North Texas on the weekend. Although the Young Reds looked shaky at the beginning of the match, they found their stride and controlled the play in the middle portions of the game.

McLaughlin scored the opening goal off a penalty kick and added his second with a fierce finish in the 51st minute. His brace helped TFC II to the season-opening victory in their first match in 595 days. Other standout players included Themi Antonoglou, Kobe Franklin and Kosi Thompson.

Despite the successful opener, TFC II players cramped up and looked gassed near the end of the match, and with a limited roster in Casa Grande, fitness was a concern of Head Coach Mike Munoz heading into the season. Thompson had to leave the match in the dying minutes after being visibiliy uncomfortable on the broadcast, furthering concerns about fatigue heading into Wednesday.

TFC II’s performance caught the eye of the USL League 1 community as well, earning McLaughlin Player of the Week honours and putting him and Antonoglou on the Team of the Week.

With three points already in their back pocket, Munoz’s men have an opportunity to put themselves above the playoff bar after just two matches with a win against Tucson. However, it’s easier said than done in the sweltering Arizona heat.

For the start of the season, McLaughlin will be pencilled in to start as a forward. He is the only dedicated forward currently on the roster in a professional capacity, while 16-year-old Hugo Mbongue is the attacker behind him. Following his brace against NTSC, there’s every reason to believe he will start against Tucson.

In net, Estonian international Andreas Vaikla appears poised to get his first start with Toronto, despite 34-year-old Caleb Patterson-Sewell picking up the win on the weekend. This year, the veteran netminder is unlikely to play each game in a player-coach role, and the midweek game could prove a perfect opportunity to introduce Vaikla to USL League 1 action.

As for other lineup changes, former York United midfielder Julian Altobelli could feature in the starting XI, and the same goes for 2021 MLS SuperDraft selection Talen Maples. The backline was cohesive on Saturday, with a combined 16 clearances, so there should not be drastic alterations to the defensive setup of Antonoglou, Higgins, Politz and Franklin.

Get to know Tucson:

TFC II against FC Tucson presents one of the few times neither team has a nickname in a USL match. In a league that features the likes of the Red Wolves, Triumph, Kickers and Tormenta, it’s a welcome break.

Formed in 2010, FC Tucson is one of the oldest franchises in the USL. The club has not had much success in their two years of USL League 1 action, never qualifying for the playoffs, despite finishing sixth in the league in 2020.

Although they finished 2020 off on a high note, winning four of their last eight matches, the form did not continue in 2021, as they have yet to win and have only one point through three matches.

Last time out, they fell 5-1 to CF Fort Lauderdale (Inter Miami CF). Still, the team played well despite the lopsided scoreline. With the majority of possession and 22 shots, FC Tucson could not find their way through Fort Lauderdale’s defence and was porous in their half. With their lack of finishing, they brought themselves into a tie for the league’s third-worst conversion rate at just 11 per cent; meanwhile, Toronto leads the league with 29 per cent after just one match.

Their attack runs through 25-year-old Englishman Charlie Dennis, who established himself as a reliable midfielder in 2019 and 2020 with South Georgia Tormenta and Tucson. In 2020, he led the team in chances created with 36, and this year, he has four while passing at an 80 per cent clip.

Leading the line for Tucson will likely be 22-year-old Shak Adams, who has a goal this season and has also created four chances. A former MLS SuperDraft pick of Nashville SC, Adams scored four times in 12 appearances with Tucson in 2020 and currently has one of the league’s highest passing percentages with 87 per cent in the opponent’s half.

Tucson’s key to the match will be to harness the chemistry between Dennis and Adams, which has been one of their only routes offensively thus far. One of the side’s strengths is passing percentage, which they lead the league with 97 per cent. Toronto’s midfield had 17 interceptions against North Texas, and a similar effort will be needed to neutralize their new state rivals.

Stats courtesy of USL League 1