TORONTO, CANADA—A few days ago, a team from Toronto managed to find a way not to win three games in a row. While that team did, whatever it was, on the ice, TFC II is in a similar situation against Union Omaha on Wednesday, looking to avoid a three-match winless streak.
Right now, believe it or not, TFC II is Toronto’s best hope at a playoff run. Sure, the Young Reds are in the early stages of their season, but what else is there? TFC? The Blue Jays? When’s the CPL starting? Anyways, it may be early, but the three points on the line Wednesday are critical to TFC II.
Coming into the match, TFC II sits 10th in the 12 team USL League 1; however, they could find themselves on the cusp of the playoffs with a win. On the other hand, Union Omaha sits third with 10 points, six points ahead of Toronto. Last season, Omaha were league finalists before losing out on the title to Greenville Triumph SC on points-per-game after COVID-19 cancelled the decisive match.
Supporters and Toronto sports fans looking for a new team can watch the match at 10:00 pm ET on the USL League 1 YouTube channel.
Last time out, the Young Reds let a win slip away in the dying moments against FC Tucson. While an additional two points would have been welcome, they would still sit in the same position in the standings.
Although Toronto has not won since their season opener, there have been plenty of positives so far, which Head Coach Mike Muñoz will look to add onto against Omaha. So far this season, midfielder/defender Themi Antonoglou and forward Garret McLaughlin have highlighted TFC II. Still, as a whole, the club has enjoyed a good measure of success.
Atonoglou and fellow left-back/midfielder Luca Petrasso both have created six chances for TFC II, good enough to put them in the top-25 in the league in that category. Most of those created chances find their way to McLaughlin, who has been fantastic with three goals in as many matches as the only professionally signed forward on the roster.
As a team, the Young Reds have been challenging to assess through three matches. So far, they are a team that likes to push forward but is also very calm at the back. Much of Toronto’s play is done out wide, with the players such as Kobe Franklin, Petrasso and Atonoglou moving the ball up the pitch before cutting into the middle. While this is a good strategy, a killer instinct is lacking in the middle of the park for Muñoz’s men.
Making assessment even more challenging is the fact that Toronto has faced North Texas in two of their first three matches, and even though the second leg featured heavy squad rotation from both sides, each stuck to their preferred tactics.
With six TFC II players making their first starts of the season in Saturday’s match, adjustments are unlikely to be as dramatic against Omaha. If the first pair of games are anything to go off of, Muñoz will play a similar starting eleven on a Saturday-Wednesday combination before making adjustments.
With that, fans can expect a similar lineup. A change that could happen is McLaughlin drawing out of the lineup for Hugo Mbongue. Despite McLaughlin’s success, he has played every minute for TFC II and could be tired heading into a potential fourth game in two weeks.
Mbongue, 16, has been intriguing in his few minutes, making himself known as an aerial threat despite his tender age. While he lacks professional experience, he is the only other dedicated forward on the roster who could slide into TFC II’s system.
In the last match, a worry for TFC II was the immense amount of chances that they gave North Texas SC. The Young Reds allowed 22 shots against the FC Dallas affiliates and needed 27 clearances to get the draw. While they stood firm until the final moments, Omaha presents a much more significant challenge, and sitting back will not work against the 2020 finalists.
Get to Know Union Omaha
Facing Omaha, TFC II gets their biggest challenge yet. While the Owls have played five games, two more than Toronto, they have only lost once. The 2020 expansion side won their first three games of the season before picking up a draw and a loss in their most recent outings. However, the team coached by Jay Mims has been one of the league’s better sides early in the campaign.
Union Omaha, unlike some USL sides, is not affiliated with a Major League Soccer club.
Players to watch: Damià Viader and Evan Conway
Vaider is an exciting player. A product of the famed “La Masia” Academy in Barcelona, the Spaniard is an integral part of Union Omaha. The left-back currently leads the team in chances created with 13, good for third in the league. He also has an assist and a goal. While he is not an automatic superpower on the scoresheet, the 23-year-old is a consistent and vital transition piece for Omaha.
Evan Conway is the offensive player that TFC II will have to watch out for. Another 23-year-old, the American forward leads Omaha with two goals, and although that is nowhere near league-leading, he has helped them in their good form. He had 27 goals in 77 appearances with the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee before scoring six goals in the 2020 USL League 1 season, including the first in Union Omaha history.
Although these two are players to watch, Union Omaha seeks results by committee, with every player putting in an effort in all areas of the pitch. Unlike some teams, the Owls have no star player, and so far, it has worked for them.
PREDICTION: 2-2: Coming off of a loss, Union Omaha will be determined to fight their way back into the win column, while TFC II, coming off last-minute heartbreak, will approach the match with a similar mindset. Two goals is a bit much for Omaha, who have an Expected Goals of 1.03 per game, but they could exceed that with a busy Young Reds team.
For TFC II, a point is not fantastic, but it is not bad either. Don’t forget, all the Canadian MLS teams and TFC II are under challenging positions to begin the 2021 season, so picking up points in any fashion is beneficial. Hopefully, TFC II can return to Toronto with playoff hopes still alive and rack up wins playing on home turf to lead them deep into the playoffs.
All stats provided by USL League 1 and American Soccer Analysis