Another weekend, another crucial match for Toronto FC II as they push for a first-ever postseason berth with the USL League One season fast approaching conclusion.
A massive 1-0 win over New England Revolution II last Friday at the BMO Training Ground saw Toronto collect an important three points.
Following a close-fought opening 20 minutes, TFC II took the lead in the 24th minute through Kevin Politz, who rose up on a corner kick to direct Luca Petrasso’s header into the Revs II goal. The battling continued through to the final whistle, but Toronto emerged victorious, picking up a second-straight win at home.
“One down, three to go and every game is a cup final,” said head coach Mike Munoz post-match. “We're taking it game-by-game, with an eye on the other opponents and how they're doing in the table. Hopefully we get a little bit of help, but there's nine points to play, two more games at home, we're in a good place.”
It was Politz’s first goal of the season – TFC II’s last four goals have come from first-time scorers – and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“A couple of good performances in a row and hopefully we just keep this going into Chattanooga,” said the centre-back. “We’re really confident in our team. A lot of players have been stepping up and putting in really good shifts.”
“We’re a really deep team too, we’re confident in all the guys we have on our bench,” he added. “Having that is a recipe for success moving into the last part of the season.”
Toronto hit the road on Saturday before heading back to their home turf for the final two matches of the season against Fort Lauderdale CF and NER II once more, but up first is a match against Chattanooga Red Wolves SC at CHI Memorial Stadium in East Ridge, Tennessee.
With nine points remaining, TFC II sit one point outside of the final playoff berth. Both FC Tucson and North Texas SC are tied for that final spot on 33 points, Tucson currently holds the tiebreaker by dint of one more win than North Texas (and TFC II).
Further up the table NER II and the Richmond Kickers have created a four-point gap between themselves and the rest of the contenders.
It’s crunch time. The players are aware.
“They know. They talk about it,” said Munoz on Friday evening. “My staff who are in the locker room on a daily basis let me know that the boys were talking about the Tucson result the other night or they're talking about the upcoming game. They're extremely engaged, they're extremely excited about where we are right now.”
“And the confidence in the group has just skyrocketed in terms of being in a position where you can fight for something with three games left in the season,” he continued. “Not a lot of players get that opportunity and everybody's embracing that right now.”
The rest of the club is cheering them on.
“My message, obviously they know, but [on Thursday] we were all, the staff, together, and we wished them well,” relayed first team head coach Javier Perez. “We know how important it is for the team, for the club.”
“It’s going to be a very challenging situation,” he added. “But we are confident that they are going to put their whole effort and they are going to have a good chance to qualify for the playoffs.”
TFC II did get a little bit of help midweek when North Carolina FC defeated Tucson, burning up their game-in-hand.
A little bit of scoreboard watching is natural this time of year.
“I fell asleep early that night and when I woke up and saw that my staff had texted me that we got a result in North Carolina, it was a good feeling,” laughed Munoz. “We need help, I'm not going to lie. We know we have to win three games, but if we get a result [on Saturday], winning three in a row, people are going to be looking at us a little bit.”
Toronto faces a stiff test this weekend in Chattanooga, one of the two teams at the top of the table to have already clinched a playoff spot – Union Omaha with 44 points lead the standings, one point ahead of Chattanooga with a game-in-hand.
TFC II have faced the Red Wolves only once this season, a 0-0 draw in Toronto on August 27 where Jimmy Obleda’s side were short-handed and resolute.
A 3-2 win last weekend over North Carolina was enough for Chattanooga to punch their ticket, but before that they had lost three of their previous four.
Toronto expects an intense contest.
“They are a very, very high-strung emotional team. They're going to get in your face, they're going to try to rattle you, they're going to get in the ref’s face and try to influence them, the coach yells for 90 minutes non-stop at his players and the refs,” said Munoz. “So it's one of those where we have to take away the crowd immediately, we have to frustrate them, we have to match their intensity at their own game, but we have to be extremely disciplined as well and not get caught up in it and make a stupid play.”
Juan Galindrez leads the side with nine goals on the season and Ricky Ruiz matches that figure in assists.
“They have some key individual players that we're going to have to lock down, make sure they don't make plays,” highlighted the coach. “But from a game plan standpoint and the soccer standpoint, I’m confident.”