TORONTO, CANADA- It’s ‘home sweet home’ for Toronto FC II. Well, not quite. While Wednesday’s match is another home opener of sorts, it is not the one that TFC II is waiting for at Downsview Park.
After spending the opening matches of the 2021 USL League 1 season in Casa Grande, Arizona, the Young Reds have relocated to Kissimmee, Florida, just outside of Orlando. As the MLS side plays at Exploria Stadium, TFC II makes their home at Osceola Heritage Park, the training ground of Orlando City SC.
Coming from playing on a stand-less training pitch to a stadium, the move is an upgrade for TFC II and supporters who will be granted a fresh camera angle. Osceola Heritage Park was built as a baseball diamond but was permanently transformed into a soccer orientation, making it the perfect home for USL soccer.
Joining the first team in Florida has some additional benefits. It allows MLS players to quickly be sent down to TFC II for minutes, conditioning and rehab, while also letting TFC II players join the team. Brogan Engbers, a goalkeeper on a USL contract, has been in Florida and has met up with his USL teammates; meanwhile, other TFC MLS players are expected to join the roster.
New digs? Check. New opponent? Also, check, as TFC II welcomes South Georgia Tormenta for the first of two matches this week. TFC II has come away with three draws for the last three games, all by the same 1-1 scoreline. While the team has generally played well, a win has been out of reach since the season’s opening match.
TFC II has done an excellent job of scoring the first goal this season, but the problem has been holding onto their leads. In the last three matches, the Young Reds have surrendered their small advantages and ended with a 1-1 draw. When the opposing side levels the game up, TFC II doesn’t seem to have a full 90 minutes to rebound, as they have failed to score later than the 58th minute so far.
Moving to a non-desert climate and new surroundings, the switch to Florida could propel TFC II to new ways on match day. One of the things that will hopefully not change is Head Coach Mike Munoz’s tactics, which have been not only pleasing on the eye but pleasing on the analytics.
Being closer to the sputtering MLS first team, led by Chris Armas, there is a chance that some of the tactics that have not worked for the MLS side creep into the USL team’s style of play. Before the season, the two managers spoke about wanting to play a similar system throughout the club; however, that has been far from the case thus far.
While Chris Armas may speak about Pep Guardiola in his press conferences, Munoz’s USL men hint at Manchester City throughout their play. TFC II completed 82% of their passes through five matches, suitable for fourth in the league and much better than Tormenta’s 77%. Although the passing percentage significantly dips in the attacking half, Toronto’s passes are fast, intricate and pick opponents apart. When the TFC II transition is working, it is beautiful and looks better than the first team as of late.
While the pitch and surroundings may be different, Toronto’s style of play is something that should stay. Although the results have not been as hoped for, the process is promising.
Potential Lineup Changes
Through the jam-packed early portions of the season, Munoz has made sure to keep his TFC II lineup fresh, rotating it a little each match. The weekend’s draw with FC Tucson had some of the team’s best players starting on the bench in Garret McLaughlin and Steffen Yeates; however, both should draw back in for Wednesday.
McLaughlin and Yeates have been a stellar pair at the top of the field for Toronto, with McLaughlin scoring a trio of goals and earning himself a nomination for USL League 1 player of the month. Although Yeates, a TFC Academy graduate, may not have the same hype around him, he has proven to be a pacey, technical complimentary forward to McLaughlin’s target-man style.
Themi Antonoglou has also been fantastic for Toronto, and although he played 90 minutes on Saturday, his second goal of the season should earn him another start. In net, the situation is getting more interesting with the Florida move. Andreas Vaikla has looked confident in his three straight starts, making eight saves; however, Engbers’ introduction to the fold gives Toronto more options between the sticks. With Vaikla, Engbers, and 34-year-old Caleb Patterson-Sewell, TFC II is set up nicely in net.
South Georiga Tormenta
One of the non-MLS affiliated clubs in the league, South Georiga Tormenta has a unique setup. Rather than acting as a development team for a first division side, they are the top team at the club and have their own South Georgia Tormenta 2 team that competes in USL League 2. In 2020, nine players on the roster were graduates of their academy program, showing that player development can happen well below the MLS level.
This season has not been too friendly for South Georiga, who come into their two-game set with TFC II with just six points through eight games, and losses in four of their last five. Despite playing three more matches than Toronto, a loss would put them behind the Young Reds.
Tormenta has conceded 12 goals, the second-highest in the league, and it could have been far worse if it weren’t for stellar goalkeeping from 27-year-old Chilean Pablo Jarra in net, who leads the league with 24 saves. If Toronto’s attack is firing on Wednesday, they should have no problem passing through the Tormenta defence.
Other than Jarra, there have not been many notable performances this season for Tormenta. Their leading goalscorer, Marco Miccaleto, has only two goals through eight matches and has looked a shell of the league all-star he was in 2020.
To find victory against Toronto, South Georiga will have to have one of their best games of the season. For Toronto, opening another new stadium and playing pretty football, a win should be in the cards.
PREDICTION: Toronto wins 3-1
All stats provided from American Soccer Analysis and USL League 1