TORONTO, CANADA - When you order a meal at a restaurant, you know what you’re getting when you place your order. If you requested a pizza, you’re expecting a pizza. Soccer, however, is not supposed to be like that. When you kick off a match, a result is not a guarantee. That is unless you’re Toronto FC II, then you can be pretty sure of a 1-1 draw, at least these days.
For the third straight match, the Young Reds scored first and allowed a tying goal, with the final whistle securing a 1-1 scoreline. While playing and living in Arizona and across the mid-southern United States is far from ideal, TFC II hoped to be leaving the first chapter of their season with more than one win.
TFC II drew with FC Tucson on Saturday night in a ‘second leg’ of sorts in the temporary desert rivalry. With the Torontonians making their temporary home in Casa Grande, Arizona, the trip between the two clubs became the shortest in each side’s USL history. With the result, TFC II would have lost 3-2 on aggregate; however, that doesn’t matter, only the single point that TFC II took from their Arizona rivalry.
Beginning their third set of two-match weeks, Head Coach Mike Munoz opted to change up his starting lineup, making some adjustments he had yet to pursue this season.
Striker Garrett McLaughlin, who scored three goals in May and is up for the league’s Player of the Month Award, spent the start of the night on the bench as 18-year-old Julian Altobelli drew into the lineup at forward. Steffen Yeates, who has played alongside, albeit slightly deeper than McLaughlin, also began the night on the sidelines with Antonio Carlini filling his spot.
While the changes may have seemed counterproductive at first, McLaughlin and Yeates had played nearly every minute for Toronto. It was unrealistic to expect them to continue without some rest.
Andreas Vaikla started his fourth game in a row between the sticks, while 19-year-old left-back/left-winger Themi Antonoglou drew back into the XI on the wing ahead of Luca Petrasso.
The match began with a bang for TFC II when Kobe Franklin curled in a near-perfect cross to the feet of Antonoglou, who controlled the ball before firing it past Tucson goalkeeper Wallis Lapsley. Although the defensive marking on Antongolou was questionable, the TFC Academy product did well to execute the chance and grab his second goal of the season.
As has been all too common for TFC II this season, the lead evaporated as quick as water in the desert when FC Tucson’s Gio Calixtro fired a header off a corner kick and into the net, drawing the match level just five minutes after TFC II’s tally.
While the opening 25 minutes of the match provided the goals, TFC II improved in their defensive game in their end throughout the evening. With a refreshed backline, the Young Reds honed in on their mid-week problem of conceding corners, improving on the nine corners allowed against Union Omaha, to only conceding one against Tucson. Unfortunately, the lone corner was the one that stole the full three points away from Toronto.
Although the Young Reds had yet to score later than the 58th minute, Munoz did his best to buck that trend, bringing on McLaughlin and Yeates in the 66th minute. Injecting a pair of the USL’s most dynamic forward pairings was an astute call, but it bared no fruit by the final whistle.
However, McLaughlin drew a red card against Tucson’s Maxi Schenfeld, whose slew-footed tackle took out the Toronto forward, earning him a second yellow card in the 86th minute. Despite being a man up for the closing minutes, Toronto could not muster any offence, sputtering to another 1-1 draw.
Fortunately for TFC II, the familiar sights of Tucson and North Texas are over as they relocate to the Orlando area, joining the first team in Florida. Playing matches out of Osceola Heritage Park, the Young Reds will have access to first-team players on a loan basis and a USL goalkeeper Brogan Engbers. Jordan Peruzza, currently playing in the USL Championship, is also rumoured to be joining TFC II in Florida.
Now sitting 11th in the 12 team USL League 1 with six points through five matches, TFC II will look to change their footballing fortunes from the monotony of ordering at a restaurant to the assumed unpredictability of sport.
WTR Man of the Match: Julian Altobelli
After a disappointing season and not appearing in a match with York 9 FC in the Canadain Premier League’s Island Games in 2020, Julian Altobelli looked every bit worth a pro on Saturday.
The 18-year-old TFC Academy product started higher up the field and did an excellent job in the somewhat unfamiliar role. Unlike McLaughlin, Altobelli dropped back deeper and connected with the Young Reds midfielders before advancing up the field. With this style, Toronto was able to harness the quick and calm passing tactics that Munoz has introduced, rather than route one that tends to suit McLaughlin and Yeates.
While Altobelli is still very raw and not near his ceiling potential-wise, he was one of TFC II’s best passers on Saturday, completing 20 passes (above) only losing the ball twice. With his emergence in the role, Altobelli gives TFC II more attacking depth, both in personnel and with his playing style.
Next Up: Wednesday 7:00 pm ET vs South Georgia Tormenta FC
With the move to Florida, the kickoff times become much friendlier to Toronto soccer supporters. Gone are the 10:00 pm ET ‘home’ kickoffs in Arizona, as the Young Reds will now regularly kick-off at the comfortable time of 7:00.
On Wednesday, TFC II begins life at Osceola Heritage Park, the Orlando City SC training ground, as they welcome 10th place South Georgia Tormenta. South Georgia currently sits level with Toronto at six points; however, the Young Reds have three games in hand on their upcoming opponents.