TORONTO, CANADA - When MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays fell 7-3 to the Texas Rangers on August 14, 2019, the idea of another Toronto team playing at Globe Life Park seemed far-fetched. With the Rangers relocating to Globe Life Field, their new home just a few kilometres away, North Texas SC has inherited Globe Life Park.
On Saturday, Toronto FC II face
the Texas Rangers North Texas at the same field that Jose Bautista slid into second base in 2016, sparking a fight between the Blue Jays and Rangers. Luckily for the Toronto team this time, sliding is legal in soccer, as long as you get the ball, of course.
3 years ago today, Rougned Odor punched Jose Bautista and initiated a historic brawl in Texas. pic.twitter.com/icw62wPFgz— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 15, 2019
The Young Reds are looking to get back on the winning side of things after falling to FC Tucson on Wednesday and facing a familiar North Texas team; they could do just that. Toronto ‘hosted’ NTSC in Arizona for their season opener just a week ago. Now, visiting them for the unofficial second leg offers TFC II a chance to find their rhythm before venturing on to face the rest of the league.
TFC II defeated NTSC 2-1 at ‘home,’ and although the Torontonians lost by the same scoreline mid-week, their performance was substantially better. Ahead of the mid-week clash with Tucson, Head Coach Mike Munoz indicated to USL broadcasters that he wanted at least 40 percent possession before his side out and controlled 60% against Tucson.
While the possession numbers were much higher than the opening game’s 30%, the purpose and creation were lacking, which Toronto will want to improve on in Saturday’s showdown.
With such a packed schedule, fatigue will continue to be a talking point for the TFC II team, who play two matches each week until the end of June. Although Munoz turned to his bench earlier in the second match than the first, he did not rotate his squad at all in either game’s starting lineup. Approaching the third match in seven days, rotation seems inevitable for a TFC II team still relying on a relatively small squad.
Goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell has played every minute in net so far in 2021, and although the 34-year-old player-coach offers immense experience, in the third match of the week, Estonian international Andreas Vaikla seems poised to start.
As for the backline, the quadrant of Kobe Franklin, Nyal Higgins, Kevin Politz and Luca Petrasso has been cool, calm and collected. However, approaching another game in a hot climate, Rohan Goulbourne, Talen Maples or Antony Curic could come into the fold.
The striker position is the only one pencilled in, as Garrett McLaughlin continues to play well and did not appear tired following the mid-week match. After earning USL League 1 Player of the Week honours for his brace against North Texas last week, he seems all but certain to be on the team sheet once again.
The third match of the week poses a test to TFC II, who are not only facing fatigue but the challenge of playing a team already somewhat familiar with their attack. Things will not be as straightforward for the likes of McLaughin and Themi Antonoglou on Saturday. Still, with North Texas losing three of their last four, TFC II has an opportunity to capitalize.
NTSC Players to watch:
Adrian Beltre and Rougned Odor Thibaut Jacquel and Derek Waldeck
Through five matches this season, Jacquel and Waldeck have been critical members of North Texas. Jacquel scored against TFC II on Saturday, making no mistake with a penalty kick; meanwhile, Waldeck leads the team in chances created with five.
Jacquel scored a brace earlier this season against CF Fort Lauderdale, and the goals did not only push his side to a 4-2 win but propelled him to Goal of the Week and Player of the Week honours. On Wednesday, TFC II fell victim to a brilliant goal from Tucson, and if Jacquel has some space, he can punish teams.
The 24-year-old Frenchman spent time in the FC Metz youth system before coming over to the United States in 2018 to play collegiate soccer at Campbell University, where he scored 22 goals in 41 appearances over two seasons. In his second campaign with North Texas, the 75th overall pick in the 2021 MLS Superdraft aims to prove he deserves an MLS chance.
Waldeck played four years with Stanford University before signing with North Texas, and his transition to the pro game has been incredibly smooth. While the left-back/left-midfielder did not get his name on the scoresheet in 2020, he impressed through 16 appearances and has taken another step in 2021. With two assists on the season and tied for seventh in the league on chances created (5), the 23-year-old 2020 Superdraft selection is a threat for the North Texans.
PREDICTION: 2-1 seems like the scoreline that TFC II is most comfortable with so far, but I am predicting a 3-1 loss for Toronto. North Texas a perennially good team in USL League 1, and four losses in five games is unacceptable for them.