On Saturday night, most Toronto sports fans went through the emotions of nervousness and relief. They lay witness to a 5-2 Maple Leafs loss to the Buffalo Sabres and therefore became anxious as the playoff race became even tighter. On the other hand, the Raptors had a convincing 94-86 victory over the Dallas Mavericks and have once again guaranteed themselves a spot in the playoffs. But one Toronto team over the weekend also provided plenty of excitement as Vaughan’s own Toronto FC II began their third season in the United Soccer League. Before touching on TFC II’s opening game, it is important to note that this is a very special year for the USL. First and foremost is the official sanction as being a Division 2 league, behind MLS. As well there has been a few expansion teams, new ownerships and new stadiums. This includes the Young Reds opponents the Phoenix Rising (formerly known as Arizona United SC) and their new pitch which is conveniently named, the Phoenix Rising FC Soccer Complex.
Toronto FC II were looking to spoil the Phoenix debut and spoil it they did with a 1-0 victory on Ryan Telfer’s 8th minute goal. The Rising had plenty of the possession to start the game as the sold out stadium created quite an electric atmosphere that they fed off of. But a beautiful Jay Chapman through-ball that split the Phoenix defenders found a sprinting Ben Spencer on the left flank and his short cross found Telfer’s foot as he redirected the ball into the back of the net. The goal seemed to knock the wind out of the Rising’s sails as TFC II began to then assert their dominance by controlling the majority of possession. Phoenix did have a couple of chances before the end of the half but the Toronto defence did not concede.
The second half was almost a carbon copy of the first with the Rising having the better play to start and to end the match while their opponents controlled in the interim. The only thing different was there was no goal scored although a little luck was with the Young Reds as a Jason Johnson’s header just missed the far post in a tense finish to the game. Overall it was an impressive road performance as they not only got the victory but they also earned themselves a clean sheet which is a good sign for a team that gave up the second most goals last year.
One of the main reasons for the clean sheet was the composure of the back line. Rarely did the Toronto defence have to punt the ball away to relieve the pressure. As soon as they got control of the ball there would be a series of short, quick passes to get themselves out of danger and still maintain possession. This greatly limited the number of second chances that the Rising had. Soccer is a game of tactics and team play and as a whole, the Young Reds were more organized.
Plenty of credit has to go to the entire TFC organization as they maintain that 3-5-2 formation from parent club, through TFC II. There usually isn’t enough time at the beginning of the season for any team in any sport to be in sync, but this team play is possible because everyone is on the same page. Players such as Jay Chapman, Tsubasa Endoh and Mark Delgado spent last season and the beginning of this one with the parent club and had just flew down for the game. It becomes easier to insert them into the line-up as they understand where they fit into the system as their teammates understand them. Now York University’s Telfer who just signed a few days ago, may be a bit of an exception to that rule but he also seemed in sync as he scored his very first professional goal in his very first match. This consistency will help Toronto FC II be successful this year as it provides them with the flexibility to overcome injuries and call ups.
The Phoenix Rising are better than their loss would indicate. This is a newly put together team and they will need time to gel. Big name players such as 37 year old Omar Bravo the Mexican international and Shaun Wright-Phillips should find the back of the net often enough. Wins however will depend on whether or not their defence can hold up. Goalkeeper Josh Cohen was impressive last night as his sweeper-keeper style of play is very similar to that of Germany’s Manuel Neuer. It’s both nerve wracking and exciting to watch depending on which side of the ball you are cheering for.
Toronto FC continue their three game road trip to start their season as they next visit the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday, March 25. If you have an opportunity to see the game (streamed online) you should, it is quality soccer and quite entertaining. Even better, check out one of their home games at the Ontario Soccer Centre located in Vaughan.
» Sports » Toronto FC II start season on...