TORONTO, CANADA - The history book is open, and it is just waiting for Toronto FC II to put the pen on paper. On Saturday, TFC II has a chance to win three games in a row for the first time in their history.
After taking down Fort Lauderdale CF 2-1 last week, and South Georgia Tormenta 3-1 on Wednesday, the Young Reds are in the best form of their season and find themselves sitting in a playoff spot.
Coming into Saturday’s match against Fort Lauderdale, TFC II will have the confidence to beat the Inter Miami affiliate. While the Floridians still sit above TFC II in the standings, they have struggled against Toronto through the first two matches, only picking up a single point; meanwhile, Toronto got four.
The opening two games have also been fierce competitions, with both sides partaking in some chippy play, especially in the latter stages of the match. On Saturday, there is no reason to expect anything else. These two teams are familiar with one another, and so far, they don’t like each other at all.
While inclement weather forced Toronto’s midweek clash to be pushed back, it did not matter much to the Young Reds, who played their way to a second-half victory. However, the delayed start is not a regular pattern, meaning TFC II wil have to be ready to go right at the first kick on Saturday.
The third meeting of the season with Fort Lauderdale also begins a change of strategy for the Mike Muñoz managed TFC II. When the final whistle eventually goes, the Young Reds will have played 11 matches in 35 days, or two a week, in a gruelling start to their USL League 1 campaign. Regardless of the result, the tactical and personnel decisions are bound to change when the schedule shifts to one match per week.
Toronto lineup changes
In an ideal situation, TFC II would field the same starting lineup that earned the big midweek win. However, with two games to go until they reach the end of the busy spell, Muñoz will have to adjust his starting lineup for the Fort Lauderdale clash.
Andreas Vaikla or Brogan Engbers will likely start at the back, even though Kevin Silva and Caleb Patterson-Sewell are on the roster. Vaikla impressed midweek, making seven saves and keeping Toronto in the match. Still, Engbers has not made an appearance this season, despite sitting on the bench on a pair of occasions. So far this season, Muñoz has tended to stick with a goalkeeper for two matches, meaning Vaikla is poised to start.
On the backline, Rohan Goulbourne will likely slide in at right-back, replacing Kobe Franklin, who was sent off with a red card on Wednesday. Kevin Politz and Luke Singh have played tremendously well through the last spell; however, Talen Maples could slide into the XI on Saturday to freshen things up.
With Singh in such good form and the first team leaking goals in extra time to Orlando and Nashville, a callup could be in the cards to breathe some fresh air into a struggling MLS side. For now, though, the 20-year-old potential Canadian international is bound for more USL League 1 success.
The midfield has featured a rotating cast of players this season, but recent consistent minutes for Antonio Carlini, Julian Altobelli and Mehdi Essoussi have solidified the situation. The additions of Jayden Nelson and Ralph Priso have certainly helped as well.
If Muñoz sticks with four midfielders, it will likely mean Enric Bernat Lunar drawing back in, despite sitting out midweek. The Spaniard is passing at an 86 percent clip, one of the higher completion rates on the team, and put in a good 30 minutes in the first win against Fort Lauderdale. Essoussi has played all but 23 minutes in the last three matches, so he might be ready for a rest.
The left side has been the key to Toronto’s chance creation this season, with Luca Petrasso advancing the ball from the back and either Jayden Nelson or Themi Antonoglou moving the play into the middle. Antonoglou has not played since June 16 and could come into the lineup. If Petrasso, Nelson and Atnonoglou play, the left side of midfield will be dangerous.
In attack, leading goalscorer Garrett McLaughlin will likely return to the eleven, potentially alongside Nelson, or Jahkeele MArshall-Rutty, both of whom have been tremendous this season. TFC II scored three goals in a match for the first time in 2021 on Wednesday, and with the potential strikeforce, they could do it again.
Regardless of the USL contracted players on the field, the recent success has run through the MLS loanees, so look for the transition and attack to run through them against Fort Lauderdale.
A rested Fort Lauderdale CF
While Toronto has been in recovery and preparation mode, without much practice since the start of the season, Fort Lauderdale has had plenty of time to prepare for Saturday’s clash. Since June 5, the home side has only played three games, two against TFC II.
“We’re excited to play Toronto again. I think playing the same opponent three times in a row has its challenges, but I think the games have been really good,” said head coach Darren Powell to Inter Miami’s website. “We want to get off to a good start and really focus in the key moments of the game.”
A win against Toronto ensures that the Miami affiliate stays above the playoff line, while a draw or a loss could see them dip out of the post-season picture. As it stands, FTLCF is just one point ahead of Toronto in fifth place.
Saturday’s match kicks off at 7:30 pm ET, and fans can take in all the action on the USL League 1 YouTube channel.