TORONTO, CANADA- A lot has changed since Toronto FC II last played a match. When the Young Reds walked off the field at Erik Russell Park after beating South Georgia Tormenta 2-1, every player was playing for the chance to suit up for the Chris Armas-led Toronto FC.
The club fired Armas earlier in the week after a tremorous start to the season, and while there were rumours that TFC II Head Coach Mike Muñoz may end up on MLS sidelines, those were put to rest with the interim appointment of Javier Perez.
Armas or not, the TFC II players are vying for a spot on the MLS team, regardless of whether they are on USL or MLS contracts. That journey reignites itself on Friday, when the Young Reds visit New England Revolution II, at the same field that the first team picked up a midweek victory.
For the first time since the start of the season, TFC II enter a match with more than four days rest. Until this point, the Young Reds had played two games a week, a tiring amount on a largely inexperienced roster.
So far, the season can be considered a success. With all the challenges of switching ‘home’ fields to having a roster with players available at a moment’s notice, Muñoz has managed to put the team right in the mix of a playoffs spot.
Heading into Friday evening’s tilt with Revs II, the Young Reds sit out of the post-season on points per game but could jump up to third place if they win and other results go their way.
It has been nearly two weeks since the Young Reds have been on the pitch, and they are itching to get back to competition. After seeing the MLS side grab their first win in eight games, the USL team will look for a similar result.
TFC II fans in Canada can watch the match at 7:00 pm ET on the USL League 1 YouTube channel.
TFC II’s lineups to date have hinged on the fitness and availability of players. While Chris Armas spoke about giving opportunities to young players, he never did in bulk at the MLS level, allowing TFC II to take advantage of the skills possessed by Jayden Nelson, Kevin Silva, Ralph Priso Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty and Luke Singh.
With the MLS loanee players on the roster, TFC II caught a string of forms and looked like a side to get for the North American third division. Without them, TFC II is competitive but can lean toward ordinary. With a different strategy at the top of the club, and Luke Singh starting in the most recent TFC game, the availability of youngsters will be in question.
Muñoz’s side is very comfortable between the sticks, and although Andreas Vaikla and Caleb Patterson-Sewell have split the bulk of the starts thus far, the time off could allow Brogan Engbers to make his 2021 USL League 1 debut. All the goalkeepers are very capable at this level and can fulfill what TFC II needs.
With the extra rest, Muñoz can field his top backline. Luca Petasso is all but a lock to start on the left side. The 21-year-old leads TFC II in chance creation this year and is establishing himself as one of the best offensive fullbacks in the league. On the right and in the centre, things get a little more intriguing.
Kevin Politz has worn the armband several times in 2021 and has been a stalwart in Toronto stingy defence. With 30 clearances and 12 interceptions, he is a calming presence that is needed in central defence. Nyall Higgins is the most likely centre-back partner for Polit, assuming Singh remains with the MLS side. At right fullback, Rohan Goulbourne is not as worn as others, having been suspended, and Muñoz has turned to him in 10 of 12 matches.
Toronto’s progression runs on the left side of the field. With Petrasso retrieving the ball and moving it into the midfield, the player he moves the ball to is critical to Toronto’s success. To this point, the most successful players in that spot have been Themi Atnogolou and Jayden Nelson. However, with Nelson offering more positional versatility, that left spot will likely go to Antonoglou.
While Steffen Yeates and Mehdi Essousi could find their way into the midfield, TFC II’s run of success has featured the emergence of Antonio Carlini and Julian Altobelli. With Nelson potentially playing up front alongside leading goalscorer Garrett McLaughlin, the two young TFC Academy grads should find their way onto the team sheet.
New England Revolution II
New England Revolution II sits three points behind Toronto in the standings, having played one game less, making three points essential for them. They are on a two-game losing streak heading into the Toronto clash, and another loss could be costly in the tight table.
Goalkeeper Brad Knighton, whose defensive blunder led to Yeferson Soteldo’s opening goal for TFC in MLS, will likely not play. That leaves Joseph Rice, who has split starts with Knighton and posts very similar stats with 11 saves.
After a heavy dose of South Georgia Tomenta, playing the USL team of an ambitious MLS club could offer lighter competition. For comparison, South Georgia’s goalkeeper, Pablo Jarra, leads the league in nearly every goalkeeping category, compared to Rice and Knighton, who are league average.
News and Notes
- Jayden Nelson nominated for USL League 1 Player of the Month
- Caleb Patterson-Sewell nominated for USL League 1 Save of the Week
- TFC II received Ontario permission for an accelerated return to Canada (similar to TFC)
- Nobel Okello and Caleb Patterson-Sewell named to Week 12 Team of the Weeks
PREDICTION: 3-1 Toronto