Toronto FC may be off this week on international break, but just in time to fill the void comes the USL season. Toronto FC II will play their first game of their sophomore season away to New York Red Bulls II on Saturday. Here is a season preview for Toronto FC's minor league affiliate.
Year founded: 2015
Affiliation: Toronto FC
2015 Record, Standing in Conference: 6-17-5 (11th in the East)
2015 Playoffs: Did not qualify
Key Additions: Anthony Osorio, Malik Johnson, Mitchell Taintor, Brian James, Martin Davis
Key Departures: Mo Babouli, Jordan Hamilton, Quillan Roberts, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Manny Aparicio
Projected Starting 11: Bono; Charpie, Thomas, Bouchard, A. Osorio; Manella, Johnson, James; Uccello, Edwards, Bernal
Overview of the team heading into this season:
As with any new club in a new league not named the Chicago Fire, Toronto FC II struggled in their inaugural USL season. The club had the second worst offense, and one of the worst defences and would end up with only six wins all year. They will be hoping those growing pains lead to more fruitful results in 2016.
In many ways they could. Despite the loss of a couple of key players, a lack of youth international tournaments should see Toronto FC II keep their roster intact for most of the season. Last year between several iterations of the Canadian youth national teams TFC II would see their top players disappear for long periods of time. Not having that again this year should only bode well for what coach Jason Bent is trying to build.
Why you should watch Toronto FC II in 2016:
With the senior team taking a number of their best players, Toronto FC II are going to be full of surprises this year. That is to say, not that much is known about the players on their roster, and a number of them are very young. Seeing which young prospects rise above the others will make this team intriguing, even if they do not necessarily win much.
3 players to watch:
1. Chris Mannella: It's the obvious choice, but it does not come without merit. The captain of Toronto FC II is probably not far away from the senior team at 21 years of age. The team is really high on him and this could be a big year for him to become a dominant player at the USL level.
2. Luca Uccello: Uccello had a strong offseason, some of which was spent with the senior team, and comes into 2016 in fine form. He played in 22 matches last season for Toronto FC II and had a goal. Uccello was called up for the Canadian U-20 squad's game against England on Sunday, but had to decline due to injury.
3. Brian James: Of all the Toronto FC draft picks not named Tsubasa Endoh, Brian James is supposed to be the most impressive. The midfielder will get a look alongside Chris Mannella, and the pair could be quite the duo this season.
The 2016 USL Season will be a success if...
Toronto FC II can challenge for the playoffs. Last year they were nowhere near the post-season, finishing 13 points out. If they can at least stay competitive this year it would be a big boost for the entire program. Other than that having a consistent roster is important, as is finding out more about some of the young academy graduates who have taken the next step to the USL level.