TORONTO, Canada—“It was 4-1” is a phrase that will haunt Toronto Maple Leafs fans for decades, recalling the team’s 5-4 OT loss to the Boston Bruins in 2013. While 1-0 is no three-goal lead, the feeling is similar for TFC II, who saw three points ripped away in the dying moments of Saturday’s match against North Texas.
Coming off a mid-week loss to FC Tucson, Toronto FC II was looking to re-enter the win column against North Texas in Arlington, TX. The Young Reds came close within two minutes but ended up leaving the former home of the MLB’s Texas Rangers with only a point.
For their third match in seven days, Head Coach Mike Muñoz opted to change up his starting lineup, giving six players their first starts of the season.
Estonian international Andreas Vaikla replaced Caleb Patterson-Sewell between the sticks. At the same time, former Ryerson University midfielder Antony Curic drew into the lineup alongside Rohan Goulbourne, Talen Maples, Antonio Carlini, and Julian Altobelli. With all the changes, it was bound to take a while for them to gel, which was evident in the match’s early minutes.
With 19-year-old Bernard Kamungo attending his high school graduation, North Texas made adjustments as well. WTR Player to Watch Derek Waldeck also began the afternoon on the bench before being subbed into the match in the 64th minute.
The first 15 minutes of the match favoured NTSC but did not prove fatal for Toronto, who managed their way through. Despite no big scoring chances in the early going, TFC II’s Curic made a tremendous slide tackle to take away an opportunity for the FC Dallas youngsters.
Garrett McLaughlin, who scored a brace in the first match between the two sides, was exceptional in the forward position. Playing his third match of the week, McLaughlin linked up superbly with teammate Kobe Franklin, who consistently played the former Dynamo man in on goal.
Per USL Stats, Franklin sent through balls up the wing to McLaughlin 5 times and connected with the attacker three times. While it never returned a goal, the simple tactic looked promising. McLaughlin’s first opportunity sparked a flurry of chances for both sides, but neither had anything to show for it after the first half.
Toronto broke the deadlock in the 58th minute when McLaughlin pounced on a rebound from Goulnourne’s shot. With the goal, McLaughlin made it three on the season and three in two games against North Texas. Unfortunately, NTSC is not on the schedule for the rest of the season.
After the goal, things looked promising for Toronto, as Muñoz subbed on his bench’s firepower, bringing on the likes of Themi Antonoglou, Hugo Mbongue, Luca Petrasso, among others, all in the hope of holding onto the 1-0 lead.
With mounting pressure, TFC II buckled but did not break until the 96th minute, when Alex Bruce sent the minimal Arlington crowd into a frenzy, bridging the game to level terms after an offensive onslaught.
While the match ended at a goal apiece, it could have very well been more in either team’s favour. McLaughlin smashed a shot off the bar in the 55th, but the difference for TFC II was moreso Vaikla, who stood on his head in the net.
Vaikla stopped five shots, as North Texas’ offensive barrage fired 22 shots on the TFC goal. Although a handful of saves is far from world-beating, some of his stops were unbelievable. With Alex Bono struggling to catch a beach ball at the MLS level, the duo of Patterson-Sewell and Vaikla offers a calming presence in the net for at least one Toronto team.
The Estonian-Canadian netminder had some communication issues with the backline at the start of the match, but those cleared up as the minutes wore on. His best stop came as NTSC sought an equalizer when he quickly reacted to a North Texas chance off a corner kick.
Vaikla’s save in the 62nd minute.— Ben Steiner (@BenSteiner00) May 29, 2021
Better than Bono? pic.twitter.com/qt4KR0AnNM
Late in the match, Hugo Mbongue was forced to go off due to a bloody nose, and 2021 MLS Superdraft pick Paul Rothrock came on to replace him. However, Mbongue returned to the match, as TFC II used the concussion substitute rule for the first time.
When the whistle went after over seven minutes of stoppage time, the disappointment was evident on the faces of TFC II players. While it was not a 4-1 lead lost or even a lost match, the evaporated opportunity was a sure blow to the morale.
Man of the Match: Garrett McLaughlin
The 8th pick in the 2020 MLS Superdraft continued to impress on Saturday, scoring Toronto’s lone goal to bring his season scoring to three goals and an assist. He slides into third place in the league scoring table with his tally, only trailing former TFC II forward Shan Hundal (4) and Greenville’s Marios Lomis.
He had four shots on Saturday and made intelligent runs behind the North Texas defenders. While he seems to have figured out the NTSC backline, it will be intriguing to see how he adjusts to other USL clubs throughout the season.
With his continued success at the USL level and Jordan Peruzza potentially joining TFC II shortly, the Young Reds’ attack is poised to become one of the league’s most potent.
Stats of the Match: 28 clearances
If 22 North Texas shots weren’t enough to strike fear into Toronto fans, then the need for 28 clearances may be. TFC II set a season-high for clearances, as the skilled North texas midfield weaved their way through Toronto’s first lines of defence. While the 28 clearances and one goal conceded are promising, it is not a consistent way to find results.
Next Match: Wednesday vs Union Omaha
There’s no rest for the wicked, as the Young Reds are back in action on Wednesday in Cassa Grande, Arizona, welcoming Union Omaha. The club that debuted in 2020 has never faced TFC II and is looking to return to winning ways after losing 1-0 to Forward Madison on May 26.
Kicking off at 10:00 pm ET, fans can watch the match for free on the USL League 1 YouTube channel.