While Toronto FC II still has a long way to go before they can be considered real contenders for the USL title, there are some reasons for optimism within the young squad. A few standout players are making their presence known and working hard to prove themselves; plus, the team is beginning to look more like a soccer club rather than a collection of individuals. Difficulties remain for Jason Bent in really creating unity and consistency for the young Reds; but certain partnerships are starting to develop.
One of the most exciting aspects of TFC II’s squad is their slowly-developing defensive line. Although Toronto’s losses against Orlando City B and the Tampa Bay Rowdies were sizable, the 3-5-2 formation sees to be finally clicking with the team. By way of comparison, Toronto has been able to hold a clean sheet three times this season; last year’s first clean sheet came in as many games (seven). Brandon Aubrey is quickly finding his way and becoming more comfortable in Toronto after being drafted by the first team in the MLS SuperDraft. Mitchell Taintor’s return to the lineup has also given a significant boost to the back. What has perhaps been the most sizable difference, however; is the arrival of Jelani Peters. He appeared on the starting lineup for the first time against Rochester, and again against Ottawa. Peters has demonstrated a knack for position, man-to-man defending, and awareness. Although of course the two clean sheets that Toronto held after Peters’ arrival cannot be solely attributed to him; he is certainly a major factor, and will almost certainly continue to feature as the season progresses.
Another bright spot is the attacking play of Sergio Camargo, who was finally able to start earning his spot after recovering from a hip injury and entering the game against Rochester at half. Camargo provided much-needed aggression on the pitch, as Toronto struggled to put anything together prior to his arrival. Camargo’s first touch was the best shot on goal Toronto had. He continued to press and, although TFC II was unable to capitalize on the opportunities created; Camargo’s work certainly breathed new life into the team. His performance was enough to earn a starting position against Ottawa in the first Canadian derby of the USL season.
For the most part, the young Reds have a particularly strong midfield with a number of players who may be ready to make the leap to the first team on occasion if the opportunity presented itself. For example, Oyvind Alseth may find himself picking up some minutes as the most natural backup for Steven Beitashour. In the meantime, Alseth will continue to ply his trade and prove his value for the young Reds. Although his crosses have yet to make a strong impact, he is creative and willing to press.
All of that is good news, but unfortunately creates an incomplete story. As TFC II’s backline and midfield continue to improve, their strikers have yet to make any impact. Toronto has managed two goals in seven games. This is, in a word, terrible. Ben Spencer has been unable to capitalize on any opportunities gained. Ryan Telfer is responsible for one of the two goals, and Malik Johnson the other.
Hopefully with Jordan Hamilton now spending time with the USL squad, some progress will be made. This was not the case against Ottawa, Hamilton’s first appearance. The only player on the entire team who has managed more than one shot on target the entire season is Sergio Camargo, with-you guessed it, two shots. The entire team has managed nine shots on target all season. Spencer has taken the most shots (6), but only once managed to put his shot on target. This is a problem, one that will need to be corrected for the young Reds to make any real progress in the 2017 season. Otherwise, we are in for a whole lot of scoreless draws, or worse.