Young Reds shine on big stage with comeback win vs. FC Cincinnati II

For those who were able to stick around BMO Field for the second game of the doubleheader on Saturday, what a comeback they were treated to.

Down two goals after 47 minutes, Toronto FC II stormed back to score four-straight goals in the time remaining against FC Cincinnati 2 to win 4-2 and collect their third victory of the season.

Attacking the South End in the second half, Paul Rothrock kicked off the comeback in the 50th minute with a header from a Steffen Yeates set-piece delivery. Reshaun Walkes levelled the affair in the 66th minute, getting on the end of a Themi Antonoglou ball through the goalmouth at the back-post after some excellent, incisive attacking movement from the Young Reds up the right-side.

Julian Altobelli added the third in the 74th minute, touching in a Rothrock delivery from the heart of the area on another sweeping Toronto move and celebrated the would-be game-winner with an epic knee slide towards the corner flag. And another dangerous Yeates ball into the box with Walkes lurking forced an own-goal out of the Cincinnati defense in stoppage-time to seal the three points.

BMO Field has seen some dramatic conclusions in its time. This was a comeback befitting of the surroundings.

“The location got to us a little bit, playing at BMO for the first time, but the boys grinded out the first half,” said TFC II assistant coach Marco Casalinuovo post-match. “Unfortunate that through our mistakes we gave Cincinnati a few goals to go ahead, but there's something about this group, they have this resilience to them, where they keep fighting and they keep competing and it showed.”

“The connection between players is built on the training ground and the goals that we scored, getting runners into the box, with the types of deliveries, it was clinical,” he continued. “A real positive to move ahead going into New York next week.”

Playing on a grander stage was always going to provoke a response.

“We all had a little bit more nerves,” admitted Rothrock. “We got more fans. There was an added element of playing on a bigger stage. Our coach said before the game, 'a lot of people today are going to see you play for the first time, going to see our team play for the first time, and this was our opportunity to show them who we are and what we’re about.'”

The boys did just that.

“We never give up whenever we get scored on,” smiled Walkes. “We always keep going and we proved it again tonight.”

Nights like this, challenges like this, are exactly what MLS Next Pro is about.

“To put them in these uncomfortable situations, for them to grow and to get through these moments and to develop in the end,” laid out Casalinuovo. “That's why this league was created and that's why we want to give our young guys as many opportunities as we can.”

Rothrock’s goal was his third of the season, bringing him level with Hugo Mbongue, who was not available on Saturday, for the team lead.

Before the match, the 23-year-old Seattle, Washington native spoke about visualizing himself playing at BMO Field from his vantage point behind the benches on game day.

Visualization is all well and good, but it doesn’t feel quite the same.

“Yeah, something like that,” he replied, asked if that was what he had in mind. “I don't think we started the game very well and we're disappointed with that, but this team finds a way. We showed a lot of resilience today, so yeah, it felt pretty good. It felt pretty good to score at BMO.”

Known amongst the group as ‘Rocky,’ he joined TFC as a 2021 MLS SuperDraft pick and scored some big goals for TFC II last year after missing much of the opening portion of the season through injury. 

He hasn’t skipped a beat this season.

“He’s a leader in the group. He always comes to play,” said Casalinuovo. “He's a guy that you can count on and you know that as the game moves on he's going to create something and something will happen from an attacking side. He showed that today in the second half.”

Rothrock admitted that his goal wasn’t exactly as they’d drawn it up on the board.

“We had a special set-piece play set up. We had three substitutes at halftime, so we were shifting on the fly and it didn't come off as we're expecting,” he detailed. “No one followed me, so I was then at the back-post and I made eye contact with Yeates. We both looked at each other and I knew that if he put the ball in the right place I was going to get an opportunity and it happen to work out for us.”

Walkes, a 2022 MLS SuperDraft pick, was nearly speechless when asked about his first professional goal in that net at the South End where so many big goals had been scored before.

“It's an unbelievable feeling,” smiled the 22-year-old. “Growing up I was watching TFC and to score there... just unthinkable, unspeakable to be honest with you.”

“I can't even explain it,” he added. “What a feeling. I'm still thinking about it right now.”

Yet another Brampton product, his family were on hand to share the moment.

“They were here today,” Walkes beamed. “Just to score in front of them, a dream come true. First professional goal, to do it in front of them, in front of BMO. friends, family, my hometown... what a feeling.”

From smiles that would not leave the faces of Rothrock and Walkes, to the Altobelli knee slide, the post-match celebrations, and a lap of the stands to greet the fans who stayed, it was a special day.

TFC II will hit the road next weekend for a match against NYCFC on Sunday, May 8 before returning once more to BMO Field on May 14 with another double header following the first team’s match against Orlando City SC. 

TFC II will face New England Revolution II at 6 pm – if this weekend was any indication, it is not to be missed.

The work of young players is so often done in the background, at the training ground, on random pitches around North America. 

So to share a night like that on the big stage of BMO Field...

“It's super special,” said Rothrock. “I was lucky because I got to play in front of a lot of fans in college, but for a lot of my teammates that's not the case. For some of them this is the biggest crowd they've played in front of.”

“And especially for the homegrown kids, what better stage than in your home city, at your home stadium,” he closed. “That was really fun.”