TORONTO, CANADA - Not much could have gone better for Toronto FC II on Sunday night, as they racked up their biggest win of the season, defeating North Carolina FC 4-2 at WakeMed Park.
Garrett McLaughlin scored a hat trick, Erickson Gallardo dazzled USL League 1 defenders, and it all led to a tremendous yet business-like win for the Young Reds.
With only a trio of points splitting up the middle of the USL League 1 standings, taking three points from last-place North Carolina was a must-do for Toronto, and Mike Munoz’s side showed no mercy as they did just that.
While the match did not kickoff until 6:00 pm ET, TFC II’s day got started in the morning, when the club announced that first team TAM midfielder Erickson Gallardo had been loaned to the Young Reds. With the Venezuelan’s introduction to the side, he became the first TFC-TFC II loan of the post-Armas era.
As Canadian soccer fans reeled in the first few minutes of Canada’s Gold Cup match again USA, TFC II announced their starting eleven, featuring Gallardo’s USL League 1 debut and the return of leading goalscorer, Garrett McLaughlin.
Munoz stuck to his plan of keeping goalkeepers in the starting role for two games simultaneously, as Andreas Vaikla found himself back between the sticks, replacing Caleb Patterson-Sewell.
In the modified and at the back, there were a few more changes out of the ordinary. Kobe Franklin started at right-back, a familiar place for him; however, usual fullback Rohan Goulbourne started in left midfield. Gallardo took his place on the right-wing.
Up top, Garret Mclaughlin and Antonio Carlini forged a partnership that worked brilliantly throughout the match and worked in tandem with Antonio Carlini and Steffen Yeates in midfield. Toronto dominated in the middle of the pitch, especially in attack, and those four drove the offensive push.
The match started quickly for the two sides, as Toronto opened the scoring in the 26th minute, with one of their best team goals of the season. As seen below, Altobelli makes a perfectly weighted pass into Gallardo’s run, just in time for the MLS loanee to lay it off for McLaughlin’s tap-in.
North Carolina centre-back Blanco Flores (6) failed to see the potential pass from Gallardo to McLaughlin in the middle. If Blanco Flores dropped back and anticipated the cross, this likely does not turn into a goal. However, McLaughlin continued his run and spotted the cross from Gallardo - that’s why he is the team’s leading goalscorer.
Thorn Simpson levelled the match just three minutes later, pouncing on a spilled ball from Vaikla. A TFC II defender attempted to head the ball back to Vaikla. However, the Estonian-Canadian goalkeeper fumbled the ball into the path of Simpson.
With a pair of goals in the first half-hour already making the match exciting, the goalscoring was far from done. The third goal of the night will end up on some sports countdown somewhere. It will definitely be nominated for the USL League 1 Goal of the Week, maybe month and maybe even season, but don’t be surprised if you see it on Sportscentre or Sportscenter.
Bicycle kicks in USL League 1? Absolutely.
Whether it was frustration from the bicycle kick or other tempters flaring, NCFC midfielder Pecka threw a punch at Carlini in the 34th minute, earning himself a straight red and allowing Toronto to play the majority of the match a man up.
NCFC did remarkably well until the 75th minute. Despite being a man down, they created three scoring chances, testing Vaikla each time, and levelled the match for the second time in the 67th minute.
18-year-old Cole Frame dribbled through three Toronto defenders before firing his shot past Vaikla. While the youngster did what he could, that was as close as North Carolina got for the rest of the night.
TFC II regained their final lead in the 75th minute, when Carlini belted a shot from the top of the penalty area, giving the North Carolina goalkeeper no chance at making a save. McLaughlin topped off the night less than 10 minutes later, sealing the win and completing his hat trick.
With the win, the Young Reds vault up to fifth place in the USL and only have one match on the road before returning home to the BMO Training Ground on July 30. Sunday’s victory also marked the first time TFC II scored over three goals in a match.
WTR Man of the Match: Garrett McLaughlin
When someone scores three goals, it is hard not to give them the man of the match award. Garrett McLaughlin became just the third player in the 2021 USL League 1 season to score a hat trick, a remarkable feat at any level.
While the former Houston Dynamo MLS Superdraft pick has not started many games recently, he looked as sharp as ever on Sunday and will want to continue that heading into the playoff stretch. His three goals also launch him into third place in league goalscoring, making it an all-around great night McLaughlin.
Next Match: July 23 - TFC II @ New England Revolution II