Toronto FC II are set for their first playoff outing after winning the regular season finale

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TORONTO — With Toronto FC out of playoff contention with two games left in the MLS season, TFC II are entering their first-ever foray into the playoffs.

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The young Reds host the Philadelphia Union II at BMO Field on Saturday in the MLS Next Pro Eastern Conference semi-finals.

“We are happy where we are,” said head coach Gianni Cimini. “We believe we are a team that can go all the way.”

TFC II (12-9-3) finished atop the Northeast Division and second in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of Philadelphia (11-9-4). This is the inaugural season of MLS Next Pro, which features 21 teams – 20 MLS reserve teams and the independent Rochester New York FC.

Seven other MLS clubs plan to field teams in MLS Next Pro next year.

Whitecaps FC 2 (7-9-8) finished outside the playoffs, in seventh place in the Western Conference. Montreal has no entry into the league.

Since forming in 2015, playing in the USL and USL League One, the TFC second team had never reached the playoffs.

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It played out this year with Toronto securing its playoff spot with a 2-1 victory at Orlando City B on the final day of the regular season on September 18. Toronto had lost 4-3 to Inter Miami II and 1-0 to RNY FC before that.

Toronto would have qualified for the playoffs with a tie at Orlando. The late winner assured them of a home play-off date.

“It should give us a little advantage here for the (playoff) game because it was tough,” Cimini said of the struggle to enter the post-season. “Especially after losing two games, to come back and get this result.

“So hopefully we can continue that in this playoff game.”

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Of the 20 players who dressed for TFC II in the regular season finale in Orlando, six players have made first-team appearances this season – Kobe Franklin, Steffen Yeates, Themi Antonoglou, Paul Rothrock, Jordan Perruzza and Kadin Chung.

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Adam Pearlman signed short-term first-team deals but remained on the bench for TFC games against the Philadelphia Union (April 16) and Orlando City (May 14).

Under Cimini, the 2022 reserve team set records for wins (12), points (41 points), goals (44), goal differential (plus-6) and away wins (six) . His 10-game unbeaten streak (7-0-3) between June 2 and August 21 is the longest in club history.

Fourteen different players have scored for Cimini, with Rothrock leading with seven goals while Hugo Mbongue, recently signed on a local contract with TFC, and Reshaun Walkes have six each and Julian Altobelli has five.

Walkes has increased it over the season, which has had an impact on the bench.

“Every game he plays in, it feels like he’s playing his last game,” Cimini said of Walkes, taken in the third round (59th overall) of the 2022 MLS SuperDraft. he gives. And that’s why he gets the results he gets on the pitch.

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Toronto beat Philadelphia twice during the regular season, 1-0 at home on June 11 and 2-1 on July 18 in Philadelphia.

Toronto (10-10-8) narrowly missed the USL League One playoffs last season, after FC Tucson (11-10-7) beat the visiting Richmond Kickers 4-2 to bring down Toronto in seventh place, just below the playoffs. line. It was a disappointing end to a marathon season for TFC II, which started playing in Arizona due to the pandemic, before moving to Florida and then returning home.

Saturday’s winner will face either Columbus Crew II or Rochester-based RNY FC in the Eastern Conference Finals.

St. Louis City 2, Tacoma Defiance, Houston Dynamo 2 and North Texas SC face off in the West.

The first MLS Next Pro Cup is scheduled for October 8.

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Canadians Jacen Russel-Rowe and Mo Farsi (both Columbus Crew II) and Kyle Hiebert (St. Louis City II) made the MLS Next Pro Best XI team announced on Friday. American Talen Maples, a former Toronto FC draft pick now with Houston Dynamo II, also made the all-star team.

Russell-Rowe, a former TFC academy member, won the MLS Next Pro Golden Boot Award by scoring 21 goals in 19 games.

TFC II’s Luka Gavran was a finalist for Goalkeeper of the Year, won by Columbus Crew II’s Patrick Schulte.

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This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 23, 2022.

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