Young Reds gear up for Home Opener vs. Cincinnati: "It's something we're all looking forward to”


After playing the opening two games of the 2024 MLS NEXT Pro season on the road Toronto FC II are looking forward to finally getting the home portion of the campaign underway.

The Young Reds will host FC Cincinnati 2 at York Lions Stadium on Sunday. 

Kickoff is set for 2 pm, general admission tickets are available for $10 at the gate ($5 for kids, seniors, and York University students), while entrance is free for Toronto FC season ticket holders with their membership card.

“Playing at home is always an advantage for any team,” said forward Julian Altobelli on Friday. “We haven't played at home since last year and it's something we're all looking forward to.”

Every single one of the 28 matches the side will play this year are important, but the 14 played in familiar surroundings carry a little something extra.

“You get a routine, you get a rhythm, the feeling of the locker room, the dimensions of the field, when you score what it feels like, when you get scored on,” listed TFC II Head Coach Gianni Cimini, in his third season at the helm. “Those types of moments are the consistency part. You play at home every other week, whereas when you go to another stadium, those moments are slightly different, they feel different.”

Just some of the comforts of home.

“You come to the [BMO Training Ground], you do a little workout and you go to the grounds. There's rituals around the game,” detailed Cimini. “That makes it more comfortable rather than just being in a hotel the whole time when on the road.”


Six weeks in, it’s been a disrupted start to the season for TFC II. 

The side played their first game in the middle of March alongside the rest of the league, falling 2-1 away to Philadelphia Union II at Subaru Park, but then the rescheduling of a game against the Chicago Fire and an early bye-week meant there were 20-odd days between fixtures. 

TFC II returned from that lengthy pause last weekend, beaten by the same scoreline against Columbus Crew 2 at Historic Crew Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Now eight straight weeks of action lie ahead. With games in hand and some ground to make up the Young Reds are cautiously pleased with the growth from game one to game two.

“First game against Philly, away from home, a bunch of new guys, some really, really good additions, and it wasn't our best performance,” lamented Altobelli. “We ended up getting the first goal, which should have been a confidence booster and we should have taken advantage of it, but it didn't work out that way.”

Jesús Batiz, assisted by Altobelli, scored the goal just before half-time, picking up where he left off in 2023, but Philadelphia scored two in response early in the second half.

“The second game against Columbus was a huge turnaround,” continued Altobelli, who wore the captain’s armband in Ohio. “We dominated that whole entire game, had a bunch of chances, but, at the end of the day, we didn't bury [them].”

“It was a step forward,” he added.

“We look at it as a positive that going into our next two games at home will be something that we can move forward on and capitalize on [those] opportunities.”

Jordan Perruzza, on loan from the first team, put Toronto ahead again in the 17th minute last weekend, picked out by a Batiz pass inside the box, only for Columbus to respond twice before the half-time break.

“[The Columbus game] was a jump in performance from the Philly match,” echoed Cimini. “We were able to really establish territory in Columbus’ half.”

“Defending off a set-piece has to be better,” he continued. “And it’s the second game in a row where we concede two goals in the span of [a few] minutes, so the ability to respond after a goal and to make sure that we're getting the next one were some big takeaways.”

“Pleased, in terms of where the game was played, how the game was played, we had more of the chances,” Cimini summarized. “It was a step up, but we don't get three points.”

Alongside sharpening up set-piece defending – one goal conceded in each match came from a corner kick – the coach urged his side to take more advantage of the chances they created: “Being a little bit more clinical in front of the goal. If you've watched the last two games, the first half alone we should be up three/four goals in both, and we end up going home with no points.”

Between off-season additions, players pushing up from the TFC Academy, and first teamers coming in to get minutes, TFC II have assembled a promising group.

“This is the deepest for sure,” agreed Cimini. “I've shared that with the guys."

“Look at the wing-back positions with Jesús, Nate [Edwards] and Theo [Rigopoulos], that's three really good wing-backs. Attacking midfield is good in terms of depth,” he assessed. “Charlie Sharp, a proven goalscorer at the college level, let's see if it will translate, and then young Dékwon Barrow up top to come off the bench, maybe then fighting for that position. We're deep, for sure.”

One would be forgiven for thinking that between preseason and the long pause between games has allowed the side to really get to work on the training pitch, but that just isn’t the reality.

The side has been split several ways. Some players were involved in first team preseason, a handful of players were on international duty at the end of February as the Canadian U20s qualified for this summer’s Concacaf U20 Championship, even more took part in either the Dallas Cup or the Generation adidas Cup with the Academy this month.

“Ask me how many weeks we actually had the team together since the start of preseason?” noted Cimini. “[In] eight weeks we probably had two weeks together. As the season goes, I see this team picking up a lot of steam, but it's going to take some time to put this together.”

The season has just begun and with their next two, and three of the next four, at York Lions Stadium, this is a good chance to start building some momentum and rhythm.

New England Revolution II visit next Friday and there is a rematch against Columbus on May 5, but up first is the aforementioned visit of Cincinnati.

The two sides split the season series in 2023, each winning at home.

“Cincinnati this year is more athletic and aggressive in terms of the numbers they commit to their pressure up the field, so our ability to play long and then, when we get the game back in our favour, to play short again, [needs to be] balanced,” anticipated Cimini. “Being able to play football and then also able to play direct for territory is going to be really important.”

Added Altobelli: “They’re a team that likes to make everything very compact.”


“Gianni’s tactics have been spot on and clear,” he continued. “Now it just comes down to us executing our game plan and breaking them down where they are most vulnerable. For us, we need to capitalize on our opportunities. We create a lot of chances, now it comes down to putting the ball in the back of the net.”

Should be a fun afternoon on Sunday at York Lions Stadium.

The boys are looking forward to playing at home.

“It’s having your family, having your friends there. It's a huge confidence boost and it's always nice, especially for me, a hometown boy,” said Altobelli. “For other guys that aren't from the city, to have their families fly down, come spend time with them, and see them play. It's something that we're all excited for.”

TFC II are the future of the first team.

“It's a pathway to the first team,” said Altobelli of why fans should pay attention to TFC II. “You see players like Alonso [Coello], who was with the second team and now he's a regular with the first team. Luka Gavran the same thing, Kobe Franklin.”

“There's always players that are with the second team that will come up, sign with the first team, produce, and be a big part in the first team,” he continued.

“It's important for people to come support us. It gives us confidence seeing fans. It's something that players look forward to.”

That is part of the experience these young players need as well.

“Hopefully we get more. Fans really push us in those close games, push us when we're down and when we're winning to continue to go,” closed Cimini. “That does have an effect on guys.”