TORONTO, CANADA - When the final whistle blew on Saturday night in Florida, Toronto FC II Head Coach Mike Muñoz did not look entirely pleased, but despite his stoic face, TFC II could breathe a sigh of relief.
After putting in a determined performance against Fort Lauderdale CF midweek, TFC II defeated their Florida foes 2-1 in Saturday’s rematch, picking up the second win of their season and first since the season opener on May 22. While the club still sits two points outside the playoff picture, a set of three points is a certain weight of their shoulders heading into the next part of the season.
As he has on most occasions in Toronto’s packed schedule, Muñoz tinkered with his lineup on Saturday, putting veteran goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell back between the sticks while also replacing the right side of defence with Talen Maples and Rohan Goulbourne.
Garrett McLaughlin, Toronto’s leading goalscorer got the night off before coming in as a substitute; meanwhile, Antonio Carlini and Julian Altobelli took the two forward spots. Intriguingly, Themi Antonoglou, who has played well through heavy minutes in 2021, was left off the matchday roster.
Also in the lineup were MLS loaned players Ralph Priso, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Luke Singh and Jayden Nelson. With experience at the back in Patterson-Sewell and youthful talent on loan from MLS, things were set up nicely for the Young Reds.
A Frantic 20 Minutes
However, even with a lineup flush with quality, things did not start well for Toronto. Priso’s pass with Mehdi Essoussi took an unforgiving bounce in just the fourth minute, allowing the visitors a two-on-none chance against the TFC goal. Patterson-Sewell stopped the initial shot, but the rebound ricocheted into the path of Josh Penn, who made no mistake putting Fort Lauderdale into the lead.
Through the first seven games of this season, TFC II had not shown very much pushback. More often than not, the Young Reds are the team opening the scoring, only to lose points in the latter stages of the second half.
Saturday, on the other hand, was different. TFC II was determined; they drove forward and created a little bit of TFC Academy history, as Marshall-Rutty picked up his first professional goal in the 14th minute. The 17-year-old finished off a cross from fellow youngster Jayden Nelson, writing the latest chapter in the long accolades of the Toronto Academy setup.
With excitement and vigour in his mind, Marshall-Rutty took the game into his own hands, this time helping another Academy grad, Julian Altobelli, grab his first goal in the 20th minute. Within six minutes, Marshall-Rutty had a goal and an assist under his belt, while Altobelli put the demons of a disappointing 2020 CPL season behind him.
Through the first few games in Florida, TFC II looked slightly out of sorts, with much of that down to the addition of the MLS loaned players. With players coming in just days before the match or on match day, there have been several moments where miscommunication plagues a game. However, with many of the loaned players spending substantial time with the “II” team, the communication patterns are becoming clearer.
While the opening third of the match was filled with chances and goals in Kissimmee, it was only a precursor to another exuberant start for the MLS side against Orlando City, where three goals were scored in the first 20 minutes as well, albeit on a flipped scoreline.
After a busy beginning, the match slowed down, and neither side came too close to adding any more goals. The second half, in particular, saw very few chances as Toronto buckled down and did everything they could to see out the lead.
Muñoz turned to his bench in hopes for fresh legs and a potentially more significant lead, but the likes of McLaughlin, Dante Campbell, Kosi Thompson and Enric Bernat Lunar were unable to spark much offence. Bernat Lunar joined the match late in relief of Priso, who was in some apparent discomfort late in second-half stoppage time.
A soccer match is ninety minutes, but most of the big moments on Saturday came in the first 20. While Toronto would have liked to add a few more goals and preferably not conceded in the opening stages, that is all minutia compared to the bigger picture of capturing a win for the first time in almost a month.
WTR Man of the Match: Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty
Although Marshall-Rutty was not the youngest player in the match, his 17-years still looked like 30 in a mature yet exciting performance. With a goal to open the scoring and an assist to give TFC II an eventual winning goal, the native of Brampton, Ontario, showed why he is so highly regarded in TFC’s future plans.
He made 23 successful passes on Saturday, with only three unsuccessful. On his goal, he was in the perfect position to pounce on the ball when it popped out to him and away from the original attacking target. He also had two successful dribbles, good for second on the team behind Kobe Franklin.
Now with solid match minutes, a professional goal and some newfound confidence. It could be time for Marshall-Ruty to rejoin Toronto FC, a side that needs any boost it can find in their pursuit away from the MLS basement.
UP NEXT: South Georgia Tormenta - Wednesday
The busy schedule of playing twice a week is nearing an end for TFC II, but not quite yet. There are still two more matches in their packed start to the season, first hosting a familiar South Georgia Tormenta side for the clubs’ third matchup of the year. With a win on Wednesday, TFC II could find themselves above the playoff bar, while a draw would put them a point short of the post-season.
PREDICTION RESULT: 2-1 (CORRECT)