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A Resilient Group: TFC II level twice to claim a point in Wisconsin

After conceding a highlight-reel goal early in the match, the Young Reds clawed their way back to claim a point and keep pace in the USL League 1 playoff hut.

TORONTO, CANADA - “Concede in the first 20 minutes” probably was not the plan for Toronto soccer teams on Wednesday, but it seemed as though the idea both the MLS and USL sides adopted the act.

For Toronto FC, it was an unlucky bounce off the foot of Eriq Zavaleta that put them down 1-0 in the 20th minute. Meanwhile, TFC II conceded in the 10th minute, suffering a “Sportscenter” worthy goal against Forward Madison.

The difference between the USL and MLS sides on Wednesday was the final result. The Young Reds clawed back twice to finish at 2-2, while the big boys slumped and slogged to a 1-0 defeat at the feet of Atlanta United.

Facing the challenge of a critical three points, TFC II Head coach mike Muñoz fielded his first-choice starting lineup while making an expected change in goal with Andreas Vaikla drawing in for Caleb Patterson-Sewell.

Kobe Franklin and Kosi Thompson linked up down the right side; something supporters have been accustomed to. At the same time, the centre of the park was taken care of by the four-person set of Antonio Carlini, Julian Altobelli, Garrett McLaughlin and Steffen Yeates, four players who have become very familiar with each other through the first half of the season.

Madison’s Aaron Molloy’s screaming shot from the top of the box opened the scoring for the Flamingos, who wore their subdued blue kits in place of their wild and famous reversible outfit. Molloy, who leads the team in most statistical categories, seems destined to move away from USL League 1, either to the USL Championship or even a weaker MLS side.

While the home side got out to their quick start, the chemistry between Carlini and Altobelli paid off once again when the former sent a perfectly placed chip to Altobelli, who made no mistake on a finish in close. With Altidore out on the MLS side, a clinical finisher like Altobelli could warrant a chance, despite his still tender age of 18.

Forward Madison regained their lead six minutes into the second half, but it was not a worry for a Toronto team that has shown tremendous resilience all season. Muñoz’s men pushed from the second they fell behind and eventually clawed their way back to a 2-2 draw.

The second goal came from Kobe Franklin, who opened his TFC II account with a wonderfully placed side-footed shot from the top of the 18-year-box, finishing off a driven cross from substitute Paul Rothrock.

What does this mean?

Although the single point does not move the needle all that much on TFC II’s playoff status, it keeps them right in the thick of the hunt and closer to the red line than if Madison had taken all three points and moved ahead of them.

Fighting back from a goal down once in one match is hard enough, but doing it twice showed the tremendous growth that the group has already had in 2021. After beginning the season in the Arizona desert, before moving to the Florida heat and humidity, Toronto’s USL club would have every reason to hang their heads in the situation.

Instead, Muñoz and his side have kept their heads held high and have a fighting mentality that may just lead them to the postseason. Through the reasonably brief history of TFC II in the USL Championship and League 1, success has not been the main focus, and often the team becomes an afterthought. This season, however, many of these players could be deserving of a first-team opportunity, not only because of their on-field play but their willingness to improve in every aspect.

The Young Reds’ pushback was admirable, yet there were still some worries in the midweek match. Garrett McLaughlin, who leads the team with eight goals, saw his production dip below .5 goals per match, and his drought continued, despite hitting the post late in the game.

With the draw, TFC II keeps pace with the tight-pack in USL League 1 but moves up to third place at the top of the tight group. While the third place is nice, the Young Reds are by no means comfortable, with 10th place Richmond a mere three points behind with a game in hand.

The rest of the league will have a chance to catch up and sort themselves out on the weekend, with Toronto returning to Canada while sitting out of play on Saturday and Sunday. The next time TFC II hits the pitch, they will host the Chattanooga Red Wolves on Aug. 27.