TFC II looks at the history books before the Tucson FC clash

Toronto CanadaOn Wednesday night, Toronto II will try to do something it hasn’t done in its USL history: win the first two games of the season.

After an impressive 2-1 win over North Texas SC at the season opener on Saturday, the Young Reds face Tucson FC for the second time in five days. While Toronto plays in Arizona, Wednesday’s game features a pseudo derby between Casa Grande-based TFC II and Tucson, whose home field is just 125 kilometers away.

The game begins at 10:00 p.m. ET on the USL League 1 YouTube channel.

While Toronto haven’t had many opportunities to train as a full squad, a bit of match play will undoubtedly help them. However, TFC II’s second scheduled game in eight days is only the beginning of the full season opener.

Under the leadership of striker Garret McLaughlin, TFC II put in an outstanding performance against North Texas over the weekend. Although the Young Reds looked shaky early in the game, they found their stride and controlled the game in the middle parts of the game.

McLaughlin scored the first goal from a penalty and added his second with a fierce finish in the 51st minute. His double pack helped TFC II to win the season opener in their first game in 595 days. Other standout players were Themi Antonoglou, Kobe Franklin and Kosi Thompson.

Despite a successful start, the TFC II players were close and gassed towards the end of the game, and with a limited squad at Casa Grande, fitness was a concern of head coach Mike Munoz, who was kicking off the season. Thompson had to leave the game in the final minutes after feeling uncomfortable on the show, adding to concerns about fatigue towards Wednesday.

TFC II’s performance also caught the attention of the USL League 1 community. She was named McLaughlin Player of the Week and put him and Antonoglou on Team of the Week.

With three points in their back pockets, Munoz’s men have the opportunity to top the playoff bar with a win over Tucson after just two games. In the stifling heat of Arizona, however, it’s easier said than done.

At the beginning of the season, McLaughlin is used as a striker. He is the only dedicated striker currently on the squad professionally while 16-year-old Hugo Mbongue is the attacker behind him. After his loss to NTSC, there is every reason to believe that he will face Tucson.

On the net, Estonian international Andreas Vaikla seems to be about to start his first start in Toronto, although 34-year-old Caleb Patterson-Sewell won the weekend. The seasoned netminder is unlikely to play a player-coach role every game this year, and the midweek game could be a perfect opportunity to introduce Vaikla to USL League 1 action.

As for other line-up changes, former York United midfielder Julian Altobelli could be in the starting XI, and the same goes for 2021 MLS SuperDraft selection Talen Maples. The backline was continuous on Saturday with a total of 16 spaces, so there shouldn’t be any drastic changes to the defensive line-up of Antonoglou, Higgins, Politz and Franklin.

TFC II v Tucson FC is one of the few times that no team has a nickname in a USL game. In a league of Red Wolves, Triumph, Kickers, and Tormenta, it’s a welcome break.

Founded in 2010, Tucson FC is one of the oldest franchises in the USL. The club didn’t have much success in their two years in USL League 1 and never qualified for the playoffs, despite finishing sixth in the league in 2020.

Although they finished 2020 with a good result and won four of their last eight games, the form did not continue in 2021 as they have not won yet and only have one point in three games.

Last time they fell 5-1 against CF Fort Lauderdale (Inter Miami CF). Despite the one-sided goal line, the team played well. With a majority of possession and 22 shots, Tucson FC could not find their way through Fort Lauderdale’s defense and were leaky in half. Since they weren’t done, they managed to get the third worst conversion rate in the league at just 11 percent. Toronto now leads the league with 29 percent after just one game.

Their attack runs through 25-year-old Englishman Charlie Dennis, who established himself as a reliable midfielder with South Georgia Tormenta and Tucson in 2019 and 2020. In 2020, he led the team in opportunities created at 36, and this year he has four while fitting with an 80 percent clip.

At the helm of Tucson is likely 22-year-old Shak Adams, who has scored one goal and has four chances this season. Adams, a former Nashville SC MLS SuperDraft player, scored four goals in twelve games with Tucson in 2020 and currently has one of the highest passing percentages in the league with 87 percent in the opposing half.

Tucson’s key to the game will be harnessing the chemistry between Dennis and Adams, which has been one of their only offensive routes so far. One of the strengths of the team is the fact that it holds the percentage, which it leads with 97 percent. The Toronto midfield had 17 interceptions against North Texas and similar efforts will be required to neutralize the state’s new rivals.

Statistics courtesy of USL League 1

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