TORONTO, CANADA - If you’ve been following Toronto FC II throughout the 2021 USL League 1 season, the last few weeks must have felt very strange. After playing twice a week for 35 days, the Young Reds are approaching just their second match in 18 days.
While Toronto FC returned home to play in front of fans for the first time in over 450 days, the Young Reds are still on the road and meet up with the lowly North Carolina FC on Sunday evening.
With the Canada-USA border restrictions loosening, TFC II returned to Canada and the GTA after their July 9 loss to New England Revolution II. However, with the next two matches on the road, the Young Reds won’t open at the BMO Training Ground until July 30, when they host the Greenville Triumph.
Before TFC II can begin thinking of sleeping in their own beds regularly, they will have to get through a pair of matches. First up? A struggling North Carolina FC side.
Formerly the North Carolina Railhawks, NCFC has been atrocious this season, picking up just a single win for six points through 10 matches. With their 1-6-3 record, NCFC finds themselves nine points behind USL League 1’s second-worst team.
However, North Carolina has recently hit a bit of form, picking up their single win on June 25, a 2-1 win over the Richmond Kickers, before stringing together a pair of draws against South Georgia Tormenta and Greenville. While the recent results show some promise, playoffs are all but a dream for manager John Bradford’s side.
For Toronto, Sunday’s match provides a golden opportunity to gain ground in an incredibly tight League 1 playoff battle. Heading into the game, TFC II sit 9th with 16 points, while Forward Maddison hold onto the last playoff spot with 17 points. With rest on their side and an inferior team on the docket, Sunday could be a season-defining match for the Young Reds.
A rested Toronto lineup
Although they are facing the weakest team in the league, the three points on the line are integral. So far this season, Head Coach Mike Munoz has not been afforded the luxury of having a rested and consistent squad; however, that is what he has on Sunday.
While playing North Carolina offers an opportunity to give minutes to some of the non-first-choice starters, the group will not be weak. With so many games so far, every TFC II player has gotten significant playing time.
At the back, expect to see either Andreas Vaikla or Brogan Engbers. The former has not played in July, while Engbers has yet to take the field for the Young Reds in 2021. Veteran netminder Caleb Patterson-Sewell has played the last two matches, and Munoz tends to change keepers after two outings.
Things get far more interesting at the back. Antoni Curic has played four games and started three but has not appeared in the last several games. He was on the bench against New England and could start on Sunday.
If Curic, a former U SPORTS player, finds his way into the teamsheet, he wil likely line up alongside Kevin Politz in the heart of the defence, while Luca Petrasso and Rohan Goulbourne take their spots as fullbacks.
Toronto’s roster has become much more consistent since the dismissal of former TFC Head Coach Chris Armas, who had loaned the likes of Luke Singh, Jayden Nelson, Ralph Priso, and others to the USL side. Without the MLS loanees, Munoz has a consistent group of midfielders to turn to.
Antonoglou has created the second-most chances on the team and has linked up superbly with Petrasso down the left wing all season. Expect that to continue on Sunday. In the middle, a rest for the ever-reliable Mehdi Essoussi could be in the cards, and Antonio Carlini could fall back into the number eight/ten spot. Enric Bernat-Lunar also looks set for another game as one of TFC’s best pass-completing midfielders.
Garret McLaughlin, who only played 22 minutes against New England, seems poised to start up top and will look to add to his team-leading five goals. At the same time, Altobelli or Antonio Carlini will likely play alongside him in a front two.
Fans can watch Sunday’s match on the USL League 1 YouTube channel at 6:00 pm ET.
There are just two matches left until TFC II returns home to play at the BMO Training Ground, and when they do hit the Downsview Park pitch, they could be right in the USL League 1 playoff mix.
NEWS AND NOTES
- The USL League 1 announced the introduction of the Northern Colorado Hailstorm, a club set to kick off in 2022. In doing so, USL League 1 is rewinding the North American soccer clock to fantastic team names. Why did we stop with things like “Tampa Bay Mutiny” and “Montreal Impact?”
With Ayo Akinola, Jozy Altidore, Patrick Mullins, and Dom Dwyer likely ahead of Perruzza on the depth chart, the original plan for Toronto FC was to send Perruzza to TFC II upon his arrival back to the club. With Akinola with Canada, it's unclear if that has changed at this time— Michael Singh (@MichaelSingh94) July 16, 2021
- Toronto FC recalled midfielder Jordan Peruzza from USL Championship club, San Antonio. The original plan was to loan him to TFC II, however, that plan is unclear with Ayo Akinola playing for Canada.