Job done, now the wait.
Toronto FC II defeated New England Revolution II 1-0 on Friday afternoon at the BMO Training Ground.
Paul Rothrock scored the game’s only goal as TFC II put themselves above the playoff line heading into the final day of the USL League One season.
Four more matches remained to be played on Saturday, but the one of interest kicks off at 10 pm as FC Tucson hosts the Richmond Kickers. Toronto did Richmond a favour by knocking out New England, allowing the Kickers to clinch their spot. If they can do the same a first-ever postseason berth is on the horizon for TFC II.
“So happy for them,” said head coach Mike Munoz post-match. “We tried to take as much pressure off this week as possible, let them enjoy the moment, let them enjoy being able to play for something on the last game of the season and they came through once again. They never cease to surprise me.”
Having been forced to sit out the previous season, TFC II had to overcome more than their fair share of challenges in 2021.
A late start and a rushed preparation with a quick boot camp in Arizona, setting up base first in the desert then in the Florida swamps while playing every three or four days. Despite it all, Toronto exceeded expectations, meeting their goal of being in the top six for most of the season.
Though the pace relaxed upon a return home, a bit of a goal drought saw them struggle to turn home field advantage into points and heading into the final month of the campaign TFC II found themselves on the outside looking in.
Cue the dramatic montage as three-straight wins, the first in club history, saw them right back in the mix.
Last Friday’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of visiting Fort Lauderdale CF may have spelled doom, but fortune gave them another chance and they seized it.
“This group has come so far in the short time we've been together,” said Rothrock. “Everyone has been doubting us, we were voted last in preseason, we had the shortest preseason, and we're now alive in the playoff hunt. We've got one result to go our way.”
“It says a lot about this group,” he added. “We were able to stick together and believe in ourselves when everything was going against us. And here we are.”
One could feel the intensity, and the nerves, through the early passages of the match against New England. Both young sides were well-aware of what was at stake. Every pass, every throw in, every run, was closely tracked, neither willing to give the other a modicum of time.
TFC II had the better of the chances – a back-pass that fell to Garrett McLaughlin, the rebound from a Luca Petrasso shot spilled into the path of Rothrock, a Julian Altobelli run through the middle that led to another Rothrock shot, an Altobelli rip from the top of the box – all were denied by Joseph Rice in the New England goal.
It was getting a little ridiculous come the 58th minute when a tempting Kobe Franklin ball from the right was driven to the back-post where Petrasso lurked, only for a defender to intervene.
Four minutes later, TFC II found their breakthrough.
“We created a couple of really great chances in the first half. We knew it was going to be really tight. We knew that New England had to win and push numbers forward, so we knew we were going to be able to catch them on the counter,” said Munoz. “It was another quality, class goal from Paul.”
Petrasso took on his man, pushing into the left-side of the area, jinking to the outside to set up a cross. His floated ball to the back-post, in the blistering wind, seemed to sail over the crowd in the goalmouth, but then out of nowhere arrived Rothrock.
The 22-year-old set himself quickly and swivelled to make contact – as sweet a hit as can be – sending the ball arcing into the back of the net before peeling off in celebration.
“I was ecstatic. I was absolutely ecstatic,” said the goalscorer. “I was just hoping that Luca was going to find me back-post and he did by playing a great ball.”
“I've been working a lot with Danny Dichio on my finishing and it's paid off,” he added.
The remaining half-hour plus went both slow and fast. New England never really threatened with Toronto controlling much of the rhythm and nearly adding a second on a few occasions. Rice, in the visiting goal, would see a red card in the final moments as he rushed off his line to prevent Hugo Mbongue from going in one-on-one, handling the ball with a sliding block outside of the box.
Three points secured, the celebrations were well-deserved.
But now TFC II must wait to learn their fate. Come Saturday night all eyes will be on Kino North Stadium in Tucson, Arizona.
“We'll have our normal routine in the morning,” replied Munoz, asked what the next 30-odd hours would look like. “We'll train as a group, get the guys rested and recover on a regen day.... And I'll be a wreck the rest of the day just waiting for that moment. Hopefully things go our way.”
Added Rothrock: “We're all going to be watching it together; it's going to be a fun Halloween.”