Toronto FC II have a chance to etch their names into the club’s history this week.
Since they were formed in 2015, through seasons in the USL and USL League One, the second team has never reached the post-season. They have come close, missing out by just two points at the end of last season. Now in their first year in MLS NEXT Pro, the Young Reds find themselves on the precipice of the playoffs.
Entering the week, TFC II have 38 points and sit in third place in the Eastern Conference, sandwiched between Rochester NY FC and Philadelphia Union II, on 39 and 37 points, respectively – Toronto has a game in hand on both.
Inter Miami II sit fifth with 33 points, like TFC, has two games remaining, leaving four teams to battle for three places as the regular season comes to a conclusion.
Toronto will have two opportunities this week to get themselves over the line.
“The only way to take it is game by game,” said head coach Gianni Cimini on Tuesday. “We know about the situation and all the permutations, but for us it's about one game at a time. We know what a win will do for us against Miami and that's the most important thing.”
TFC II will close the campaign on Saturday, Decision Day, with an away game against Orlando City B, but first they must square off against Miami at York Lions Stadium on Wednesday night.
That the two have met recently only adds another wrinkle to the match.
TFC II travelled to Florida and defeated Miami 4-1 on September 3. A Jordan Perruzza strike in the 7th minute gave them an early lead, but Miami drew level in the 73rd minute. As has been a trademark of sorts for the Young Reds, that prompted a response which came in the form of three goals in the final 20 minutes. Reshaun Walkes responded nearly-immediately with a strong run and finish in the 75th minute. Stefan Karajovanovic and Antonio Carlini added two more in stoppage-time.
“It was one of our better games of the year,” said Cimini. “The way we approached from a tactical standpoint, mentality, the decisions of the players on the field. We were really pleased. Now the challenge is to make it even better.”
“Whenever you have the better of a side, the opponent always has an opportunity to be better because the problems are more clear. For Miami the problems were much more clear because things went our way,” he continued. “I anticipate them to be better positioned to play us the second time around and we have to continue to do what we did well against them and anticipate some of the things that they can change. We have to be ready.”
Toronto had a chance to clinch their spot this past weekend when Rochester came to town, but fell 1-0.
The visitors took a lead in the 17th minute and stifled the game. TFC II must shake off that disappointment quickly with a big week ahead.
“Whenever you lose, or you win, there's emotions that go with both those feelings. There has to be a place to reflect, to learn. There's always ways to improve,” said Cimini. “When we lose there's more clear ways to improve and we have to make sure that we take those into account, consider them, and want to be better the next time.”
“The feeling in the dressing room was obviously disappointment, but it's how are we going to be better next time and to really hone in on commitment and consistency, and what that looks like. It starts with the desire to want,” he underlined. “If you don't want, there's nothing you can do in terms of clarity and execution. That piece was a speaking point for us after Rochester.”
The match will be streamed live on MLSNEXTPro.com. Two games left, two games to define the season.
Rochester hosts NYCFC II on Saturday, while Philadelphia must travel to face New England Revolution II that same day.
A single point midweek will guarantee TFC II a playoff berth, four points will guarantee they go into the playoffs as the top side in the Northeast Division.
“We're in a position of control. Things are good,” reminded Cimini. “We need to come with the commitment, the consistency, the desire to want, and then we start from there. Everything gets easier when you’ve got those things in line. That’s the message.”