TORONTO, Canada—Was it a derby? Maybe, at least temporarily. At least that’s what the two club’s social media accounts were calling it. Still, in reality, Toronto FC II’s 2-1 loss to FC Tucson was nowhere near as hate-filled as a proper North American derby such as TFC and CF Montreal.
At least the Arizona sunset was beautiful.
TFC II came into the match without ever having won two games to start the season, and with Wednesday’s result, they will have to wait at least another year. Coming off of a victory in the first week of their season, Head Coach Mike Munoz stuck with what worked, sending out the same starting lineup for the second match in a row.
Somewhat surprisingly, he stuck with 34-year-old Caleb Patterson-Sewell in net rather than giving the nod to Estonian international Adreas Vaikla. With the club as a player-coach, Patterson-Sewell played well against North Texas on Saturday, yet it still seemed Vaikla was poised to start.
The match began with TFC II on the front foot, and it looked as though they were going to cruise to victory. In the first 15 minutes, Toronto had 75 per cent of the possession, well improved from the 35 per cent they finished with against North Texas. Controlling the run of play and spending most of the opening minutes in Tucson’s half, victory seemed within reach from the early stages.
However, soccer is a game of chances, not possession, and TFC II could not create many scoring chances, despite their control of the ball.
Against the run of play, Tucson broke the deadlock in the 23rd minute out of seemingly nothing. From a throw-in, the visitors created a chance that ended up with a beautiful long-range goal from Joao Delgado. Up to that point in the match, a Tucson goal looked about as likely as a TTC train arriving on time to a downtown station.
There was not much wrong with the goal, as TFC II centreback Kevin Politz got his head on the ball but did not catch enough of it, allowing the chance to land at the attacker’s feet. Delgado made a glance at the TFC II goalkeeper, made a judgement and did exactly what he had to do. While the goal was deflating, it took quality to get through Toronto’s backline.
Unfortunately for the Young Reds, the opening goal began a period of 10 minutes which cost them the match. Tucson did not miss a beat, continuing their attack and nearly adding their second goal from Giovanni Calixtro’s blistering strike in the 27th minute.
While Calixtro did not score on his chance, Tucson’s second of the match came soon after, just four minutes after their first. While the opening goal was worthy of Goal of the Week, the second goal would have looked right at home in a U13 match. Deri Corfe was the last to get his foot on the ball, putting an end to a mad scramble of a Tucson corner.
Corfe’s goal was just unlucky for Toronto. The corner-kick was near-perfect, but the Toronto defenders should have gotten a foot on it before the attacker. If defending was based on numbers, it would not have ended up in the net, but Corfe did a good job fighting off Toronto’s defenders to find the winning goal.
However, the only positive to the second goal was that it busted the TFC II slump, and the Young Reds began their valiant fight back into the match. Just nine minutes after falling down by two, League 1 Player of the Week, Garret McLaughlin and Themi Antonoglou connected for the latter’s first professional goal.
There is so much to like in the sequence above. McLaughlin and Antonoglou communicate effectively, ensuring that Antonoglou continues his run while McLaughlin lays the ball into the attacker’s path. The 19-year-old Antonoglou then leaves his defender on the ground and smashes the chance home.
While Toronto FC recently signed Kemar Lawrence, it seems as though he might not be needed. Although it has just been two games, Antonoglou, an Academy graduate and homegrown player, is looking more and more capable of graduating to the first team on the left side.
The final moments of the opening half brought a bountiful of excitement, as Tucson forced Patterson-Sewell to make a pair of diving stops, and Mehdi Essousi, Luca Petrasso and McLaughlin all had chances to tie the game for Toronto.
Despite trailing after the opening half, Toronto had 60 per cent of the ball and passed at an 83 per cent clip in the opponent’s half. While they were only able to capitalize once, their five key passes showed promise.
TFC II picked up the intensity in the second half, with another five key passes, and unexpectedly, did not look as tired as some would have guessed. Munoz turned to his bench nine minutes earlier than he did on Saturday, bringing on Hugo Mbongue and Rohan Goulbourne while giving season debuts to Paul Rothrock, and 18-year-old Julian Altobelli.
Altobelli, who signed with TFC II after an unsuccessful stint with York 9 FC, showed well in his 30 minutes of action, completing seven passes, four of which moved the ball up the park. He also had a pair of recoveries in which he maintained possession afterwards.
The youngest player on the roster, 16-year-old, Hugo Mbongue looked promising and made his presence felt in the box, getting his head to a ball in the 85th minute and just skimming it over the crossbar.
The best late-chance of the match, however, came off the foot of goalkeeper Patterson-Sewell. You read that right, the goalkeeper nearly scored off a corner kick in the final moments of the match. Alas, the chance flew wide. Check out the video below at 2:31 to see the chance.
The earlier substitutions were beneficial to Toronto, and it was a notable change from Munoz to move his personnel adjustments up by nearly 10 minutes. While they were unable to bring the game back to level terms, the change in the attack was positive, and it offered some much-needed rest to a starting group bound to be tested in the coming weeks.
With the loss, TFC II stay at three points through two matches and sit 10th in the 12 team USL League 1 table.
WTR Man of the Match: Steffen Yeates
Themi Antonoglou certainly made himself a good case for Man of the Match, but Steffen Yeates’ impact on the match was too significant to ignore. Coming off of an NCAA career with the University of Connecticut and Oregon State, the Academy grad has not looked out of place in his first two professional appearances.
On Wednesday, he had one of the game’s first chances with a left-footed shot from long range, but even though he missed, it was just the start of an outstanding night for the 21-year-old. He finished the night with three shots, one on target and 38 successful passes.
However, while his distribution was good, he was invaluable in drawing free-kicks for the Young Reds. Tucson defenders fouled Yeates three times, as the homegrown midfielder drew the most fouls of any player on either team.
His play off of the ball with deceiving runs also helped push Toronto’s attack up the field. One of the intriguing factors to his performance was his tendency to drift inside from the left in the second half while Toronto sought a tying goal, as seen in the heat map above. He’s a fast and very smart player and showed that against Tucson, despite the loss.
NEXT UP: Saturday vs North Texas
The Young Reds visit North Texas SC for their second and final matchup with the FC Dallas affiliate. North Texas plays at Globe Life Park, the former home of MLB’s Texas Rangers, the same field that Toronto Blue Jays legend Jose Bautista sparked a fight with a ‘slide tackle’ in 2016. Let’s just hope a slide tackle does not start fisticuffs with TFC II as it did between the Blue Jays and Rangers.
Saturday’s game is a more pleasant time for Toronto soccer fans, kicking off at 5:30 pm ET on the USL League 1 YouTube channel.
All stats courtesy of USL League 1