TORONTO, CANADA - Finally, Toronto FC II can breathe. It’s been 35 days since the Young Reds kicked off their 2020 USL League 1 season, and in that time, the club took to the pitch 12 times in USL League 1 action. To say it has been a gruelling and tiring stretch for TFC II would be an understatement.
However, after a 2-1 victory on Wednesday night on the road against South Georgia Tormenta, the team led by Head Coach Mike Munoz finds themselves in a playoff spot and with nine days to prepare for their next match.
In their final mid-week match for the foreseeable future, everything went according to plan for Toronto. Coming off of a well-played performance, albeit a loss, against Fort Lauderdale CF on the weekend, TFC II continued their form but flipped the final result.
Toronto and South Georgia have become well-acquainted through June, playing each other for the fourth and final time on Wednesday. While the schedule could appear tilted to certain opponents, it is a favour by the USL, who limited TFC II’s travel amid the strange pandemic season. With all the familiarity, however, comes animosity and fierce competition between two sides with recent history.
Mere hours before the match, Toronto FC loaned MLS players Jayden Nelson, Noble Okello to TFC II, where they joined fellow MLS loanees Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty and Luke Singh, who have been with the second team for several weeks. With the first-team additions, the Young Reds were able to field an extremely talented lineup.
As expected, Munoz opted for veteran goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell in net, replacing Andreas Vaikla, who had played the two previous matches. TFC II fielded their seemingly first-choice defence at the back, with Singh and Kevin Politz in the middle and Luca Petrasso with Rohan Goulbourne as fullbacks. Goulbourne returned after missing the last match with a suspension.
After successfully attacking with Garrett McLaughlin and Antonio Carlini over the last few matches, Munoz chose to rest McLaughlin in a move that eventually paid off. Carlini ended up dropping back into midfield, with Marshall-Rutty and Nelson leading the attack.
As has been the case more often than not in 2021, TFC II spent the opening minutes of the match settling into the play but not giving up many opportunities in the process. Facing a familiar side, there was a chance the “feeling out” process would be skimmed over, but both sides cautiously waltzed through the opening portions.
Toronto’s first chance of the match came off a Luca Petrasso corner kick in the 24th minute, which found the head of Politz, only to fall into the hands of Tormenta’s Pablo Jarra. Less than 10 minutes later, Tormenta thought they had taken the lead, but their goal was called back for offside, the first of two times in the match.
Despite a stingy opening half, TFC II earned a penalty kick when a Tormenta defender took down Marshall-Rutty in the box. In his first USL match of the season, Okello made no mistake, sending Jarra the wrong way and giving the visitors a lead heading into the break.
While Tormenta attackers forced early second-half saves out of Patterson-Sewell, TFC II earned themselves a little bit of breathing room in the 55th minute. Nelson, who scored two goals in his last TFC II match, had his shot blocked by a defender, but Antonio Carlini was there to pick up the loose ball and smoothly strike it towards the far post and in for his first goal of the season.
Trailing by a pair, Tormenta forced Toronto back into their half for the rest of the second 45 and finally found their break in the 76th minute. A curling cross from midfield skimmed over Singh’s head and right into the path of South Georgia’s Rodney Mitchell, who directed the ball past Patterson-Sewell.
Sticking to their pattern, the last few minutes were unnerving for TFC II, who got lucky when a late goal was pulled back for offside. South Georgia peppered the Toronto net with five shots in the last 15 minutes, but the 34-year-old Patterson-Sewell stood firm, completing his eight save performance.
While the Young Reds come away with all three points, their performance was far different than the losing effort against Fort Lauderdale. TFC II only had seven shots on Wednesday, compared to 25 against the Inter Miami affiliate; however, their finishing improved significantly against South Georgia.
With the win, the four-game season series between Toronto and South Georgia ends on even terms, with Tormenta picking up a pair of 1-0 wins and Toronto winning 2-1 and 3-1. While familiarity and consistency in opponents allow for specific tactical adjustments, Toronto now moves onto a new group of opponents and potentially a return to Canada.
WTR Man of the Match: Noble Okello
Playing his first USL minutes of the season, 20-year-old Noble Okello thrived in the midfield. On the first goal of the night, he was in the right position to receive a pass at the top of the box and quickly spotted Marshall-Rutty making a run into the box. He looked far removed from a youngster on the ensuing penalty kick, confidently smashing the ball past one of the USL’s top shot-stoppers.
However, one of the things that stand out from his performance is just how busy he was in the midfield. Playing in a central role, he was right in the middle of a Tormenta midfield that suffocates opponents and often wins the battle in the middle of the pitch.
With defenders pressing him at every opportunity, the MLS loanee brilliantly held the ball and made successful passes more often than not. As seen above, Okello spread the balloon to all areas of the pitch and only had eight passes go astray. All in all, a very good match from the Toronto native.
Next up: July 9 @ New England Revolution II
For the first time this season, the Young Reds have more than a half-week off, not playing until July 9. The much-needed rest will allow TFC II to get healthy, get fit and re-tool ahead of their best-ever chance at the post-season. After 12 matches, Toronto sits in the final playoff spot, a place they will want to hold onto or improve in the season’s next chapter.